Sunday, July 10, 2016

Who is My Neighbor? - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT (C)

I must admit, I am really psyched about today’s Gospel. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorites….

So, “How do you read it?” That’s what Jesus asks the man. (He’s getting him to think). How do you read this parable? What’s the “moral of the story”?

I think most of us would say: “Help those in need” or “Be like the Good Samaritan”—that’s the moral of the story.

But I think there’s something more than that here.

Consider this: why does Jesus need to tell a very, very detailed story about a Samaritan when the question of morality (that is “what must I do to inherit eternal life”) has already been answered? Why another lesson when it is already clear that we must “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”?

Because the Good Samaritan isn’t just a nice story telling us to help others. It’s a story that answers the question: “Who is my neighbor?”

Of course, the answer to that question seems easy enough: Everyone is my neighbor.

And that’s right… But . Remember, it’s a scholar of the law who is asking this question of Jesus. There is something philosophical being asked here—the man is not simply asking about quantity, he’s asking about what is at the heart of this word “neighbor.”

It is akin to asking the question: “Who am I?”

We could answer that question quantitatively: “I am a priest, I am someone works and who does x, y, and z for a living….” But the question still remains: Who am I?

That’s an existential question. What is at the heart of me? what is the meaning of my life? …

And who is my neighbor?

What is at the heart of him? Who is he?

*          *          *

These are the questions that Jesus is addressing. And so, enter the Good Samaritan.

Who is the Good Samaritan?

We want to make him us, as a moral lesson about who I am supposed to be. But that’s not who the Samaritan is. The Good Samaritan is Jesus.

I know that is very obvious, but we have a tendency to gloss over this reality and take it for granted. Indeed, if Jesus is the Good Samaritan, then who are the other people in the story? And where are we in the story?

Let’s start with the robbers. Who are they? They are the devil and his minions.

Who did they rob and leave for dead? The man. That’s Adam. (His name, in Hebrew, literally means “the man”). By extension, that man is all of us: all of us, in Adam, had been stripped of our dignity as children of God, robbed of our eternal inheritance with God, left half-dead because of sin.

Who are the priest and the Levite (that is, a man of the law)? These are the Old Testament Laws and temple sacrifices. But could they save Adam? Could the commandments and the offerings of bulls restore humanity and bring it to heaven? No. And so the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side.

Who can save humanity? Jesus. The Good Samaritan.

(Roll credits!)

But wait! the story doesn’t end there!

It says the Good Samaritan “had compassion” on the man (esplanchnisthe!). He picks the man  up and pours oil and wine in the wounds. Why all of this detail? Because the oil represents the Holy Spirit and the sacraments that use it: Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing, Holy Orders. The wine represents love (think the Wedding at Cana) and its sacraments: Holy Communion and Holy Marriage. These are the medicines that will help restore humanity back to health!

But there is another detail: once these have been poured, its says Jesus “binds” the man’s wounds. That’s the Sacrament of Reconciliation: the great binding and loosing (Mt 18:17-18; Jn 20:22-23). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is such an important part in healing the sins, the spiritual wounds, of humanity!

After this, Jesus carries the man to the inn. That’s the Church.

It is there that Jesus tells the innkeeper: “take care of him.” Who is the innkeeper, this steward? It’s Peter and the apostles—indeed, anyone who is so ordained to care for the Church.

And what does Jesus give him? Two coins—the deposit of faith and of grace by which humanity will be cared for and restored to health.

And notice: Jesus says he will pay the innkeeper back—when? “On my way back.” That’s the Second Coming.

*          *          *

Pretty amazing, huh? The entire story of salvation history, right there. (I take that from Origen (from the early Church), Venerable Bede, and Pope Emeritus Benedict.)

Let’s draw some conclusions from this.

First, we learn about humanity: all of us—ALL of us—are that man who is by the side of the road and in need of a savior. Who am I—who is my neighbor? Someone who is in need of a savior.

We learn about Jesus, the Good Samaritan: He is someone who sees our pain and He stops for us. And He doesn’t just give us a temporary fix. He goes the extra mile, tenderly caring for our wounds and giving grace upon grace, superabundantly so—He even pays the price for us.

We learn about the Church: She exists precisely to care for humanity. And not simply to give humanity food, clothing, and shelter (although She must do this too). But also to heal the spiritual wounds and to restore humanity to health. Indeed, Jesus gives the Church for humanity—for ALL humanity. Everyone is to be invited in. All of humanity needs her!

*          *          *

Finally, we learn about our neighbor. The scholar of the law had asked “who is my neighbor” and Jesus responds by the example of the Good Samaritan. We call that Samaritan “Good” because so many people thought them bad—Samaritans were seen as traitors, sinful, and were thus spurned by the common culture.

When Jesus makes Himself to be one of them, He infuses something deep into “my neighbor”: He gives my neighbor a name.

That “group” out there that is not liked—blacks… whites… cops… muslims… Catholics… whatever group….  there are people there in that group, people who are part of the same Story as we are, and each one of those persons has a name.

And not just any name. At the heart of each person is a name: and that name is Jesus Christ.

When you are giving the Sign of Peace to your neighbor to your left and to your right, you aren't shaking hands simply with Danny or with Jen. You are shaking hands with Jesus Christ.

We don’t see Jesus in our neighbor or ourselves (and maybe they don't see Him in us or themselves) precisely because we are all wounded and in need of healing: we aren't yet the Good Samaritan. But that healing is precisely what's going on here at the inn. That whole process of healing is a process of transformation and restoration: that we may be restored and transformed into the Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, “a man like us in all things but sin” (Heb 4:15).

As we are healed and transformed, we will start to see Jesus restored not only in ourselves, but we will see him "robbed," "beaten," "stripped" "left for dead" in all of humanity. It is then that we will hear Our King's returning words: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to these, you did unto me” (Mt 25:40).

Who is my neighbor? … My neighbor is Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment