July 10, 2022 This homily will not be delivered as I am on vacation.
Deuteronomy 30, 10-14 + Psalm 69 + Colossians 1, 15-20 + Luke 10, 25-37
We have all heard and read this Gospel episode multiple times in our lives. I dare say, we could easily tell the whole story in our own words. Sometimes that kind of familiarity narrows our vision a bit and obscures other dimensions and details. I have heard countless homilies about the people who passed by, and just as many about the “Good” Samaritan. I will admit that I have even given a brief homily about the Inn-keeper. However, concentrating on the parable and forgetting about what prompted the telling of this parable is quite another thing, and we should not miss the chance to reflect upon this “Scholar of the Law”. He is really at the center of this. He is the real one in this episode. All the others are simply characters in a story Jesus makes up as an example revealing something to us.
What we know from St Luke is that this “Scholar of the Law” was sharp and knew his stuff. He responds to the question Jesus poses reciting chapter and verse from memory! Jesus is impressed at first. Then the “Scholar” reveals something about himself that does not go well. He either does not believe what he had just said or he simply did not understand. What emerges are two things that give us cause to wonder about ourselves. He thinks that we can justify ourselves. Wrong! We do not save or justify ourselves. There is nothing we can do to “earn” or “deserve” God’s grace, favor, and love. It is always a gift. Just keeping the rules does not get us anything. That’s the minimum requirement that sets us free to really move deeper into the mystery of God’s grace. So, the “Scholar” is off to a bad start. Then, things get worse because with his question about who is my neighbor, it’s obvious that he is looking for some limits. He’s wondering just how far we have to go with this business of loving with our whole heart, mind, and strength.
To dig deeper into this, we might do well to clarify what it means to be “justified”. The question of righteousness was the source of a great deal of discussion at the time of Jesus. So, it’s not surprising that this “Scholar” comes to the Rabbi Jesus with the question. What “righteousness” means is just as much a challenge to understand today as it was then, especially when people put “self” in front of it. Basically, it means living as God intended. To help God’s chosen people do this God provided what the Israelites called: “The Law”. The Scholar has nicely condensed the Law into a single phrase. His problem is that he’s looking for a way out, the minimum; and that never goes over well with Jesus.
When Luke describes the Samaritan’s reaction upon seeing the abandoned man he uses the word a Greek word for “compassion”. Luke’s choice of words is for one that is very powerful. It refers to being deeply moved in the gut. In a strange and yet wonderful twist, Luke very subtly uses the despised “Samaritan” as an example for God. That must have raised an eyebrow or two for those who got the point. The parable says to the Scholar and to us that God can work though anyone and look like anyone wherever humans risk taking care of each other.
We can often be a lot like that Scholar of the Law, looking for the minimum and an easy way out of doing more, especially if it might cost us something. The Samaritan does not do the minimum. He does not just dump the man for someone else to take care of. He binds his wound, carries him on his own ride, and takes care of that man’s needs in the future. What we learn, and what that Scholar learned is that God assumes the pain of every person who suffers, and God bears the cost of their suffering. The final message for us is there in the last verse: “Go and do likewise.”