27th Week OT(M): Jonah 1.1-2, 2.1-2, 11 and Luke 10.25-37
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory,
The Good Samaritan. We all know the story well. Here are the lessons we traditionally draw from the story: 1) because they were too concerned with the laws of purity, the priest and Levite leave the beaten man to his fate, thus violating the law of love; 2) compassion is of the Spirit and therefore not doled out on the basis of race, nationality, creed, or preferred denomination, even a Samaritan is given the spirit of compassion; 3) compassion is not only about immediate assistance to the distressed, but also about their continued care on into what would normally appear to one to be excessive; 4) being a proper neighbor means showing mercy always; and 5) perhaps most importantly for us, the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is answered best by Jesus when he points to the Samaritan’s compassionate care and says, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise. Let me say out loud what I would be willing to bet most of us are thinking: “I’m not doing that.” Maybe you aren’t being that blunt. Maybe you’re just worried about how difficult a thing it would be to imitate the Samaritan. Or maybe you trying to work it out in our head how you could do what he did without actually getting too involved with the victim himself. I’m willing to bet that some of you are thinking these things b/c every time I read this gospel I think, “I don’t have the time, the money, or the patience to get that involved with someone I don’t even know! And my eternal life depends on this?” I immediately start to think of ways to turn the story into something other than a direct order to serve those most in need. For example, this is some sort of vague tale of angels coming to help men—one of those Feel Good moments when we have to hope on the goodness of the supernatural b/c we can’t trust the natural. But, no matter how hard I try, how hard you try, the story remains…as is.
And I wonder why Jesus tells the story. Of course, he’s instructing the scholar of the law who is worried—as lawyers often are—about his own liability under the Law of Love. The scholar has the philosophy of mercy exactly right. Jesus says, “You have answered correctly…” The more difficult moment, however, comes when he says, “…do this and you will live.” Be merciful and you will have eternal life. Jesus tells this story of compassion b/c he dies on the cross for us all. Everyone. Without a single exception. And he means for us to understand that it is not enough for us to “get” the theology right, to grasp the philosophy correctly. Our merciful intent is a ghost in the brain if it will not animate our hands and hearts. Think: what if Jesus had merely thought about suffering and dying for us. Mused on the idea of saving us. Sat safely under the shade of a fig tree and contemplated the wisdom of offering himself as a victim for our sins. Would we have the Holy Spirit kicking us in the rear, thumping us on the head to go and do likewise? Maybe. But what difference would it make? In fact, how exactly would we be any different than the priest and Levite who see the beaten man and cross the road to avoid him? Caring compassionately for your neighbor is not an abstraction. It is a matter of our salvation. How perfectly inconvenient! What a huge nuance.
Fortunately, we do not have to decide to be merciful all alone. When Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” he is also saying, “I am with you always.” When he says, “Be merciful and you will live,” he is also saying, “You know what mercy looks like b/c I have been merciful to you.” Indeed, he has rescued us from the pit and now we are freer than ever to help him rescue others. If we have a job description as Christians, it is this: out of the love Christ has shown us, we must love and be merciful.
That is a truly inconvenient truth.