Sunday, July 11, 2010

Your Words, Lord, Are Spirit And Life; You Have The Words Of Everlasting Life.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Moses said to the people:
"If only you would heed
the voice of the LORD, your God,
and keep his commandments and statutes
that are written in this book of the law,
when you return to the LORD, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul.

"For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
'Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out."
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Psalm 69
Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.

I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD,
for bounteous is your kindness:
in your great mercy turn toward me.
Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
"See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not."
Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
The descendants of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall inhabit it.
Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
Psalm 19
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
the decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
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Reading 2
Collossians 1:15-20
Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created
all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
Luke 10:25-37
There was a scholar of the law
who stood up to test him and said,
"Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law?
How do you read it?"
He said in reply,
You shall 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."
He replied to him, "You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live."

But because he wished to justify himself,
he said to Jesus,
"And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus replied,
"A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him
 and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him,
he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him,
he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds
and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
'Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.'
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"
He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
The more we read the Gospel – especially the Gospel according to Luke – the more we are reminded that the key to Christian living is service to the human family – the entire human family. Of course, we are called to believe the message that God has revealed to us, but, as the Letter of James reminds us, “faith without good works is dead”.

Today’s Gospel is a case in point. It is one of the most famous of parables – the stories told my Jesus. There are four characters in the story: There is a temple priest, a Jew, and a man of deep religious convictions. There is a Levite, also a Jew, a member of the priestly cast, also a religious person. There is a Samaritan, who is identified only as a merchant.

Finally, there is a fourth person, who is lying on the side of the road, severely injured. Who is he? Jesus identifies the first three characters in his parable quite precisely, but not the fourth character, the one who is in need of assistance. He might be another priest, another Levite, another Samaritan, maybe even someone else altogether. It seems that this detail is not relevant to the lesson Jesus is teaching his disciples by telling them this parable.

As the story goes, what would be gained if we could attach a label to him? What really matters is that this is a person who is deeply in need of assistance. In this situation, the response to be given is perfectly clear: Never mind your own ambitions. Don’t worry about what other people might think about you. Forget about the fears and desires which arise in your imagination: what harm might come to me if I touch this man? What disease might I contract if I come in contact with his blood?

Last, but not least, what about your religious obligations. The priest and the Levite were on their way to Jerusalem, to fulfill their duties in the Temple. They could not risk coming into physical contact with the injured man, who probably had been bleeding. Contact with blood would have made them “unclean” and prevented them from fulfilling their Temple duties. “I’m sorry that you’ve broken your leg, and need an ambulance; but I’m going to be late for Mass. If you’re still lying here when I get back …”

Then, there the moral condition of the man lying on the side of the road. He may have been rather stupid to be traveling along a road that was notorious for robberies and hijackings. He may even been a highwayman who was beaten up by someone he intended to rob!

For Jesus, in telling this story, none of these details matter. What does matter is that the injured man has a higher priority than the concerns of the other three. Yet, only one of them – a despised, unbelieving outsider – responded to the injured man’s immediate and urgent need. Not only did he interrupt his journey to apply first aid, he went out of his way to bring the injured man to a hostel where he could rest and recover. And he paid the expenses, as well!

The key word in this story is “compassion” or “mercy.” This is not the same as “pity”. Compassion implies a deep sense of solidarity by which one can enter into and share the suffering of the other person. The “neighbor” in this parable is not the one who needed help, but “the one who showed compassion”. A true neighbor is one who shows compassion to another who is in need of assistance – even if the other person is a total stranger. In the world of Jesus, there are really no outsiders, no strangers.

The two Great Commandments are the core teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. How can I say that I love God with all my heart and mind and might, -- the first Great Commandment – unless I also fulfill the second Great Commandment – Love your neighbor as yourself. The man who question Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel put his finger on it when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” It is a question each of us has to ask and answer as honestly as possible. Another way of phrasing this question is to ask: Who, in my everyday life, am I willing – or unwilling – to help? What is my attitude toward the other people in our city: the poor, the disabled, the homeless, those who are in trouble with the law, or those who speak a different language?

Today’s gospel has a very practical message. Jesus is not giving a religious teaching to an elite minority. He is teaching all of us how to be truly human, how we are all called to behave toward each other. As the First Reading puts it, God’s law “is not up in the sky … nor is it across the sea”, beyond our reach. No, “it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your heart”. In other words, Jesus is not calling us to become perfect, as God is perfect. He is calling us to be true to the deepest convictions of our own human nature: “He had compassion”, is the way we translate the text today. But Luke, the physician, uses a Greek word that relates to the Hebrew word for “womb”, and refers to a mother’s care for her newborn child. Struck in the depths of his soul by the lightning flash of mercy, the stranger becomes a neighbor. Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is everyone who is not myself; and I should love my neighbor as myself.

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