Summary: For most of us, however, the times we frequently encounter beaten and bloody humans along the Jericho road is in our daily life of work and friendship.
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost 2017
Over the past half-century I have had several careers, and I thank God for all of them. Twenty years were spent in sales and sales management, and much of that time was spent selling life insurance. It’s not the easiest thing to market, since it makes men and women confront one of the two certainties of life, and they’d rather pay taxes than face death. So we trained salespeople always to sell the benefit first, and then talk about the price. And that’s what our mother, the Church, is doing for us today.
St. Paul today reminds his readers of the ultimate objective of the Christian faith–eternal happiness in communion with the Blessed Trinity. Paul himself had an experience of Paradise, perhaps an out-of-body phenomenon during one of the times the Jews tried to murder him, or during one of his shipwrecks. He says “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” And he was just touching the fence, so to speak, of the eternal home of God. What awaits us at the end of this brief life on earth is unspeakably wonderful joy forever. That is, to continue my limping insurance analogy, if we pay the premiums.
The theologians tell us how we may have hope in our eventual, eternal union with God, how we can be assured that we shall see the face of Our Lord in the company of the saints and angels. We need to live and die in charity. That means prayer in union with Christ and the Church, so that we grow in love. It means keeping the commandments, and living to do good for others. Our Lord shares an unforgettable parable with us today that helps us focus on both the reward and the price.
When we were on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, an experience I have to recommend as an incredible enrichment for one’s prayer life, we took a bus on the Jericho road. It’s a desolate place, a real desert. You might see sheep a couple of times an hour. So it’s easy to imagine robbers assaulting a traveler, especially if he was alone. He was left for dead. The priest and Levite probably avoided him there in order to avoid ritual impurity. But the Samaritan, Luke tells us, “had compassion.” The Greek word suggests that he wept over the beaten traveler. He took care of the man and even paid for the innkeeper to complete the convalescence.
Now the best way I could retell the tale for today is to identify the traveler as myself, and the one who cared for him as a terrorist of the Islamic state. Jews hated and feared Samaritans, as we rightly fear terrorists. You’ll notice that when our Lord asked “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers”, the Jewish listener wouldn’t even use the word “Samaritan.” But that is the one the Savior identified as our neighbor.
Living and dying in charity, in true love, means more than vaguely saying you love humanity. True charity must be expressed in actions more than in words. It means keeping our eyes open for opportunities to serve those who are unable to serve themselves. And then doing something about what our eyes see. For those who are young and healthy enough to do the heavy lifting, helping with the church or school’s physical plant, building a Habitat house, serving at the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen are all ways to serve. For those who are not able to help physically, we can act to financially support ministries that do. We call those corporal works of mercy, and they are not optional.
And if you are both disabled and broke, intercessory prayer is always possible, right up until the moment of our death. It’s that most wonderful of the spiritual works of mercy–put right in the position of emphasis and honor at the end of the list–to pray for the living and the dead.
For most of us, however, the times we frequently encounter beaten and bloody humans along the Jericho road is in our daily life of work and friendship. I’m a schoolteacher. The most important part of my job doesn’t involve slide shows and chemicals. My most vital task is watching and listening to my students. I’ll use the next couple of weeks to establish a baseline: what do they look like when conditions are normal. Then I try to greet them every day and watch their faces and listen to their voices. I’ll know a lot of the time when they are having a problem. I can’t be obtrusive, but I ask them “are you ok?” and then observe the response. I help them know that my classroom is a safe place to be, and I then do what I can to re-establish peace in their hearts.