I need some feedback on this homily. I preached at the vigil Mass this evening and something didn't seem quite right. Preachers are generally bad judges of their own preaching. . .Help!
15th Sunday OT
15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas
Moses tells his people that they must return to the Lord their God with all heart and all their soul. To do this all they need do is keep His commandments and statutes. What could be easier? The Lord's commandments are not mysterious or remote; they are not hidden nor are they difficult to follow. Every commandment is written in the book of the law. Every commandment directs God's people to behave a certain way. His laws are not up in the sky or across the sea. No one has to climb to the clouds or swim the oceans to retrieve them. The will of the Father is very near to them; in fact, what He wants for them all is already in their mouths and in their hearts. All they have to do is do what the Father has asked them to do. What's so difficult about that? Why is simply doing what God wants us to do so hard? If we could ask the priest and the Levite why they refused to help the traveler who was robbed and left for dead in a ditch, what would they say? I was in a hurry. Things to do. I'm not a doctor. What could I do? He may have been unclean. I didn't want to contaminate myself. Whatever their reasons, however sensible those reasons may be, the priest and the Levite tossed their Father's law up into the clouds. Out of reach. They threw His will across the sea. Why? A remote and mysterious law is easily ignored, more easily thought of as optional. Perhaps the question we need to ask is not why do we find God's will so difficult to follow but rather how do we arrange our lives so that His will seems impossible to follow?
If Moses is correct and God's commandments are already in our mouths and on our hearts, then doing God's will should come naturally to us. Not only should we not have to think about the right thing to do, we should do it as a matter of course. No deliberation. No agonizing over options. No weighing consequences. Just do the right thing. Just do it. But how many of us experience moral choices in this way? How many of us find ourselves in a situation where we are called upon to act with compassion yet we hesitate or even fail to act because we feel the need to think it through. We believe that the situation needs analysis; we need time to contemplate all the options and ponder the likely effects of our actions. If it sounds like I am disparaging rational deliberation on moral questions, let me dispel this worry: thinking through our actions and their consequences is what rational creatures do. However, when we use intellectual problems or legalistic dithering in order to avoid compassionate action because such action is inconvenient or expensive, we effectively refuse to love as God Himself loves us.
We have an example of this in the scholar of the law who confronts Jesus with a sensible question: what's it gonna take for me to get into heaven? Since this guy is a lawyer, Jesus ask his own sensible question: what's written in the law? The lawyer rattles off the relevant verses about loving God, yourself, and your neighbor. Jesus says, good, do that and you will live. Just do it. But the lawyer wants to clarify a point of interpretation. He wants to wrangle a bit over the definition of terms and see if he could wiggle around this painfully straightforward command. Luke writes, “. . .because [the scholar] wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" What sort of question is this? Luke says that he asks the question in order to justify himself. What exactly is he after? Remember that the Mosaic Law was filled with strict definitions, clear cut lines and limits on who, what, when, and how the Law was to be applied. His question may have been asked in order to avoid responsibility for loving his neighbor but it is also asked as a way of trying to get at the limits of his responsibility. Surely Jesus didn't mean to say that everyone is my neighbor! Surely lepers and prostitutes and money-lenders and Samaritans aren't my neighbors! Unfortunately, for the lawyer, that's exactly what Jesus means. The case Jesus lays out for the inquisitive lawyer bears this out.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a familiar one, so we don't need to go into detail here. But let's look at the sequence of events to see what Jesus is teaching our lawyer friend. Notice a few details. Jesus never reveals the race, religion, ethnicity, or social class of the robbers' victim. These details would influence the lawyer's answer because each would define the term “neighbor” in a conventional way for the lawyer. Jesus portrays the Good Samaritan as acting compassionately without considering anything but the humanity of the victim. Only after telling the story all the way through, detailing good deeds of the Samaritan, does Jesus ask: who was neighbor to the victim of the robbers? He didn't ask, which of three passers-by treated the victim like a neighbor? He asks, which of the three was himself a neighbor to the victim? Do you see the difference? Defining “neighbor” is not about trying to figure out who out there gets my compassion. When I act compassionately I am a neighbor to whoever it is that receives my compassion. Jesus is telling the lawyer that he is to stop thinking about who fits the legal definition of “neighbor” and instead start being a neighbor to anyone who needs help. In other words, “being a loving neighbor and acting like one” is a condition each of us carries in our heart and mind—an internal state—and not a classification we impose on others—an external state.
We know how the story ends. The lawyer, finally hearing Jesus' teaching, says that the Samaritan was the good neighbor because he was the only one of the three who treated the victim with mercy. Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” Treat others with mercy, love others like the compassionate neighbor that you are, and you will have eternal life. Go and do likewise. Don't merely treat others. Don't simply show mercy. But treat with mercy. Act with compassion. Acting, doing is not enough. Compassion, feeling is not enough. It takes both.
Now, back to our original question: how do we arrange our lives so that God's commandment to love seems so impossible to follow? Do we love as God loves us, or do we spend time and energy trying to figure out who deserves our love? Do we act compassionately, or do we hesitate and ask questions about the nature of mercy and who truly merits our forgiveness? Do we go and do what the Good Samaritan did, or do we find perfectly plausible, even sensible reasons to cross to the opposite side of the road and disobey our Father's will? Knowing how we avoid loving God and our neighbor will take us a long way toward knowing why we will not to do what the Father has commanded us to do. Moses tell his people that they already have the law in their mouths and in their hearts. All they need do is carry out the Father's command to love. Lifting up the compassionate deeds of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”
You know what it is to love because God loved you first. Go and do likewise. Just do it.
Follow HancAquam ------------>