Summary: Our Understanding of God's Love moves us to repent of our sins, forgive as we are forgiven, and live a life of gift to convert others.
Fifteenth Sunday in Course 2013
For nine years I had the privilege, joy, and occasional discomfort of teaching moral theology to a class of tenth graders at a local Catholic high school. Right at the top of the proud moments was an incident that happened when Archbishop Gomez visited my class. He asked a young man named David why he is a Catholic. The young man did not hesitate. He said “ours is the only religion that teaches us to love our enemies.”
He was right, you know. Judaism, our ancestor religion, learned from Leviticus what we heard from St. Luke today–love your neighbor as yourself. But, in general, the neighbor was considered a fellow Hebrew, certainly not somebody like the Samaritans. After all, Samaritans were the ones who consistently attacked and killed Jews as they were trying to return to the Holy Land after their various exiles. We are all too aware of what fundamentalist Muslims do to their enemies. A bishop from Bangladesh visited San Antonio recently and admitted that they do not permit conversion of Muslims in his diocese, because once it is known, the convert is likely to be killed and the church destroyed. Stories continue to come out of the subcontinent of radical Hindus killing Christians and burning their houses of worship.
So the story that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel had to be shocking to his listeners. I’ve been on the Jericho road–hot, lonely and threatening. A pedestrian by himself was likely to be mugged in the first century. In fact, the whole series of Crusades was conducted in the middle ages because bandits were robbing and killing pilgrims. The Crusades were called to protect the pilgrims and the holy places. So this Jew was mugged and left for dead. A priest and Levite passed by their countryman, presumably because they were on their way to minister in the Temple and did not want to risk ritual impurity. The one who stops is not only a non-Jew, he is also an enemy to the Jews. He sees the Jew, all beaten and bloody and nearly dead, and the Greek uses the word esplanchnisthç. The word means, literally, “moved in the gut.” The sight of the wounded man gave him the same feeling we all felt when the twin towers fell in 2001. It moved the Samaritan to action, all the way to writing a blank check to the innkeeper for the convalescence of the beaten man.
Where did Jesus get this story? Some commentators believe that it was a real event, and that Jesus may have adapted it to make His point about loving even our enemies with a practical love. Ultimately, though, isn’t it a parable about Jesus Himself–about Jesus and us, and about the Father’s love for us weak and sinful children? Let’s get one thing clear in this first of my homilies. I am a sinner. I have fallen short in the past and continue to do so in the present. I know that I was the guy beaten up–mostly by my own bad decisions–and lying bleeding spiritually on the side of the road. Jesus came to me and forgave my many sins and has not stopped pouring on healing oil and antiseptic vinegar since then. He wrote a blank check for my redemption and sanctification and paid the ultimate price for that gift. I think many of you have had a similar experience of the results of God’s compassion for you. Through Him God has reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:20) For that gift we ought to give constant thanks to our Lord.
But perhaps some of you have not had such an experience. You may not even understand why you have to come here, week after week, doing the same thing, hearing the same words, sharing what may be to you only a symbolic, even pathetic, snack. You may even deny the reality of sin and weakness in your life, or wonder if there is a reality underlying the material, an existence beyond this temporal life. Or you may be so angry at the existence of evil in the world that you are tempted to deny the existence or power of God. Pope Francis’s new encyclical has a relevant passage: “Faith . . . offers the possibility of forgiveness, which so often demands time and effort, patience and commitment. Forgiveness is possible once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil, and that the word with which God affirms our life is deeper than our every denial.” (Par 55) To accept forgiveness is to admit sin and weakness in our deepest existence, and that takes time and reflection. When we admit that a lot of the evil we see comes from us, and realize that God wants only the good for us, then the gift of faith can help us see that the Father is waiting with open arms to forgive us and embrace us, and confirm us in new life that is full of goodness and forgiveness for others.