"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

15th SUNDAY -C- July 10, 2022

Deuteronomy 30: 10-14; Ps 69; Colossians 1: 15-20; Luke 10: 25-37

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

The first reading sounds a familiar theme – keep God’s commandments. So, what else is new? Isn’t that what we expect to hear from religion? God has laws and we have to obey them. But that’s not the core message of the Bible, so let’s look more closely into this passage before we brush it off as an excerpt from a rule book for life.

Moses’ primary message is to call the people to listen to God’s voice. That’s what great religious leaders do, they call us to be attentive to God. God has spoken, and we need to heed that voice. The laws God gives are not like the ones we observe in society, regulations detached from the one who gave them. God doesn’t want us merely to keep laws. We are the ones who would reduce our relationship to God to mere observance. To heed the voice of God is to be attentive to God and be in relationship to the One who would guide us for our own good. And it is for our own good that God speaks "commandments and statues".

Another problem with religious laws is they sound like they are setting such a high ideal, well beyond the reach of the ordinary person. Moses includes all in his teaching – no part of it is beyond us, or too "mysterious and remote." Moses is not inviting a select few to follow, people who will go off to the rarified atmosphere of a desert commune, or a cave. Rather, God’s ways are attainable, because God is already within, "very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts".

God’s dwelling within will enlighten us when we must speak the right words to others. God is already in our hearts, forming our words to be as loving as they are in God’s own heart. No, we don’t have to go searching for God on some far off mountain, or achieve God by performing some Herculean task. Rather, God has entered our house, dwells already within. What must we do then? Moses says it for us; listen to God’s commands. They are "in this book of the law," and they are "...something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts, you have only to carry it out." This God and this God’s ways are very accessible to each and all of us. And these commands are life bearing. God has come to us bearing grace, and now that this grace resides in our hearts, we can keep the commands "written in this book of the law." These are not merely legal prescriptions, but teachings that enhance both our lives and the lives of the community.

The Gospel today presents a very familiar story. "Good Samaritan" has become part of our language, whether we are Christian, or not. There are even "Good Samaritan" laws in our civil code to protect the passerby who helps a victim from being sued later. We have known Good Samaritans in our parish who gather clothing for the poor, turkeys for families at Thanksgiving and who make sandwiches to bring to the homeless. But these Good Samaritans are one of us, out of our community. It’s difficult to hear this parable afresh because we have tamed it so.

Parables aren’t supposed to pat us on the back, or result in tidy formulas. They are meant to provoke the thoughts and imaginations of the hearers. We are so removed from the original hearers and have so tamed this story, we miss its cutting edge and its provocation to our tidy inner world and views of religious practice.

The priests and Levites, according to their traditional religion, were not allowed to touch a dead body. Since the man was "half dead," they might have thought he was dead and felt no qualms about leaving a dead body in the ditch, thus observing their customs and piety.

The Samaritans were traitors to the Jewish faith and nation. They had allied themselves with the enemies of the Jews and the Jews, in turn, had destroyed their temple. Jesus’ deliberate choice of a Samaritan has the sharp edge that might enable the parable to pierce the shield of traditional thinking and presumptions about people. Whose side would God be on in this parable? This certainly has God working outside the religious and observant world of Jesus’ listeners. This parable threatens our sureties about friend and foe, God and religion, custom and religious practice.

With whom do we identify? Maybe with the Samaritan. He must have known from his own experience what it felt like to be "beaten up" and left behind. His own experience as a member of a despised group, an outsider to the religious and national thinking of the Jews, may have made him respond to the victim by the side of the road. The preacher might invite the hearers to find places in their lives where they have been excluded, victimized, judged. Feeling and remembering what that pain felt like might help us be sensitive to victims of abuse, harassment, negligence, favoritism, racism, etc., we know, or come upon in our daily lives. We don’t have to travel far, the road to Jericho might pass through our own homes, work places, and neighborhoods.

Of course there is the massive victimization of third world countries due to their debts to first world nations and banks. They will never get out of the ditch unless we who have the power to do so, find a way to help them. There is a strong sentiment among religious people today to urge the world’s rich countries to do something about the international debt. Reminding us of the Jewish ideal of canceling debts for the jubilee years, St. Pope John Paul II has said ("Tertio Millennio Advente"), "Christians will have to raise their voices on behalf of all the poor of the world."

But maybe we choose to identify with the "half dead" person in the ditch. Where in our lives are we in need of the stranger, or outsider to come to our aid? Have we ever been helped by one considered "outside" our circle? Did that experience do anything to soften our attitudes towards that person’s group? Did it help us put asides our stereotypes? The lawyer in this story is surprised by what he finds himself having to admit: the Samaritan was the neighbor. The Samaritan had compassion. Once we can speak such truths we can be assured the parable has cracked through our customs and even our religious attitudes to help us see God. Perhaps our own family or religion have planted ideas about other people. These judgements of others have damaged us as well, because of what we were taught, we too have "fallen in with robbers". We have been victims, damaged and left by the side of the road. Jesus, the Outsider, comes by, sees our wounds and comes to heal us. This parable is the instrument of our healing, it is the oil he pours on our wounded spirits.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/071022.cfm