15th Sun [C] 2007

Fr. Charles Irvin

Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

The Samaritans lived in the northern part of the original territories of the Jews. History records that the Persians conquered the Jews in a war and carried them off in captivity to Babylon, leaving behind Samaritans, Jews who lived in the northern parts of Israel who collaborated with the Persians. They compromised their religious beliefs and practices and so were allowed by the Persians to stay there in Samaria. Later when the Jews returned home to the Promised Land from their Babylonian captivity they despised the Samaritans. The hatred lasted for centuries.

This was the context Jesus faced when He traveled through the northern parts of Israel. Remember that Nazareth is in the north of Israel and so Jesus had frequent contact with Samaritans. And do you remember the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well when He requested a cup of water from her? There were other incidents, too, recorded in the bible, in which Jesus found Himself dealing with Samaritans.

We turn now to the lawyer we heard about in today’s Gospel. He was uneasy with the teachings of Jesus. The lawyer’s conscience was beginning to bother him and so we find him today coming to Jesus to ask Him a tricky question. The lawyer wasn’t so much trying to trap Jesus with a foolish question as he was trying to weasel out of what his own conscience was trying to tell him. Being very familiar with the Law of Moses, he knew what the Jewish Law required of Jews with regard to aliens and foreigners. It required Jews to care for them.

Our friend, the Jewish lawyer, had his defense mechanisms engaged just as much as we do. He knew how to keep God and the demands of his religion at a nice, safe distance. Oh, to be sure, he paid God a lot of respect and all that. He had memorized the words about loving God and loving our neighbor as we love our selves.

The problem the lawyer was giving to Jesus and the answer that Jesus gave him is our problem as well. Just who do we consider to be our neighbor? Today, tomorrow, and the next day spend some time asking yourself whom you include within the term “neighbor”? How much care would you give these people? The answer tells us how close we have let our faith come to us.

Our faith is not some nice, abstract theory, some ideal that perhaps we might some day try to reach when we have more time. It’s all very close to home; very near to each one of us. We don’t have to cross any ocean to be religious, or go off into some monastery or convent. We don’t have to have special, holy people be religious for us and send them up into the heights on our behalf. God wants the love of ordinary people, not just saints. And God wants to work through just plain folks, like you and me.

And so we are confronted by God — challenged by Him. Living in the Kingdom of God isn’t some nice theory, some ideal that we can’t reach in our every-day lives. Religion isn’t something that just happens on Sunday so we can put it away for the rest of the week. It is something very close… too close for some of us… and we all have moments when we squirm just like the lawyer in today’s Gospel account.

So, then, just who is our neighbor and how close to our hearts are they?

Our neighbor is anybody we identify as “those people,” people we call by ugly names, people we want to go away and get out of our lives.

We need to remember, however, that one day they might pick us up out of our ditches. They might care for us; spend their resources on us in order to help us. People we identify as “those other people” may be Samaritans for us. Will we let them? Will we let them get close to us?

The Word of God is a two-edged sword. It not only protects us and helps us, it also has moments when it confronts us. God’s Word at times comforts the afflicted, and at other times afflicts the comfortable.

Who, then, do I care for? Who do I allow to care for me? Who do I go out of my way to really help, to bind up their wounds? To whom do I give my precious time? Giving money is easy compared to giving our personal time and attention. Recall that the Samaritan gave more that just money in caring for the stricken man lying in the ditch.

Who is my neighbor is a very important question both for me as well as for you. It is also an important question for us to face as a people. The answer is a gauge of who close we have let religion come to us and how close to the Kingdom that Jesus bids us to reveal in our everyday lives.

“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.”

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”