Pastoral Message – July 10, 2022
I often tell people that are preparing for marriage that neither of them should expect their future spouse to be a mind reader. Things go much more smoothly in a marriage if each of them speaks up and clearly tells the other what he or she wants or expects. Over my 27 years of marriage, I recall many times when I disappointed my wife, Rosemary, because I did not clearly understand what she was thinking. I remember saying in frustration, “If you would just tell me what you want, I will [do it / buy it / arrange it].” Sometimes, equally frustrated, she would simply buy a gift, wrap it, and say that it was from me. That may have been a little embarrassing for me, but it certainly ensured that she got what she wanted.
In the First Reading, Moses explains to the people that, unlike Rosemary, God is very clear about what he expects. In fact, he wrote a very specific list of behaviors that were either required or forbidden. There is no guessing or mystery here. God doesn’t say, “Oh, I don’t care…surprise me.” However, Moses also observes that knowing the law is only half the battle. He tells them that the law “is something very near to you…you have only to carry it out.”
As Psalm 147 explains, “[God] proclaims his word to Jacob, his statutes and laws to Israel. He has not done this for any other nation; of such laws they know nothing. Hallelujah!” This is a psalm of praise for God. It is not a psalm of complaint or fear. The psalmist is celebrating the fact that God has given his laws to Israel so that the people could follow those laws and maintain their special relationship with God.
Of course, by the time that the Gospel passage takes place, the Jewish people have over complicated the law and have placed more emphasis on “checking the boxes” of compliance with the law than on loving their neighbor. The “scholar of the law” appears to understand that simply knowing the law may not be sufficient to entitle him to “inherit eternal life.” He asks Jesus what he must do to enter the kingdom. Yet, in asking the question and in his response to the question that Jesus poses back to him about the law, the scholar quotes the law but, at the same time, demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the reason for the law. The lawyer also tries to limit the law’s command by defining the term “neighbor” as narrowly as possible. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” corrects that narrow understanding of who is a neighbor. Through the parable, Jesus tells the lawyer that, while he has given a scripturally proper answer, more is expected of him if he wants to have eternal life.
Jesus structures the parable to explain that the law is more than a set of rules, it is about fostering loving relationships between people. Jesus draws the distinction between a rigid reading of the rules which kept the priest and the Levite from tending to the man and the response of the Samaritan who chooses not to be bound by rigid rules. Both the priest and the Levite certainly knew the law and were focused on following it in detail. However, they missed the concepts of love and compassion which form the foundation of the law. Jesus shocks his listeners by stating that the Samaritan not only sees “his neighbor” in the man who was beaten but who also takes his time and money to truly help that poor man. He not only tends to the man, but also builds a relationship with him.
The Samaritan saw only a person in dire need of assistance. He went above and beyond the minimum required. He dresses the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to sooth the pain). He puts the man on his animal and takes him to an inn for a time of healing and pays the innkeeper with his own money. He then goes beyond common decency and tells the innkeeper to take good care of the man, and he would pay for any extra expenses on his return trip. The Samaritan was merely passing through the town, yet he saw this total stranger as his neighbor. His broad understanding of who his neighbor is contrasts starkly with the lawyer’s narrow definition.
Because the good man was a Samaritan, Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law in their lifestyle and conduct. Jesus then tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” meaning that he should start living the law instead of simply knowing it. Of course, acting on our own, this is an impossible obligation. We cannot always keep the law because of our human condition; our heart and desires are mostly of self and selfishness. However, with God’s help and grace we can be kinder, more generous and more loving.
So, the messages for this week (not unlike many prior messages) are: go above and beyond to show love and compassion for “our neighbors;” define “neighbors” broadly as anyone we encounter; and, seek the saving help of Jesus to have any hope of loving as He commands.