15th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Luke 10:25-37
We all understand the concept of the Good Samaritan, right? In fact, I am pretty sure that we all have a Good Samaritan story. A moment in our lives when we were in desperate need of help. A moment when we found ourselves in a predicament that required assistance and there, in our worst moment, somebody came to our aid.
I myself have had a few Good Samaritan moments. One of the more memorable occurred many years ago, while I was in college. It was December, the week between Christmas and New Years, and I was traveling across the great state of South Dakota. It was getting late in the afternoon, I was traveling West on I-90 and was about 10 miles from the next exit when I ran out of gas.
It was cold, snowing, getting dark, and there I was stranded on the interstate. So, I put on my winter gear, grabbed the empty gas can in my trunk (because I ran out of gas a lot when I was younger), and started walking. As you assume, within about 10 minutes a Good Samaritan pulled over and offered me a ride to the nearest gas station. Then, after I fillled up my gas can, a second Good Samaritan appeared and drove me back to my stranded car.
I have shared this story before and typically someone will ask, “did they buy your gas?” Or, “did they offer you a meal?” Or, “Why didn’t the first guy give you a ride back to your car?” These questions imply that the aid these two individuals provided was lacking. As if they were not indeed true Good Samaritans because they could of done more.
My response to these questions, is simply, “all I needed was a ride.” I had a gas can. I had money to purchase gas. I had food a plenty in the car. (I was returning to Wyoming after having spent Christmas with my grandmother in Minnesota. I had enough turkey sandwiches to last a week if necessary. )
A Good Samaritan is not measured by the amount or the quality of the assistance given, but rather by mercy shown.
Today’s Gospel is very clear about this.
Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a question. A Jewish law scholar asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as he typically did in these type of situations, responds to a question with a question. And the scholar, in the words of the Law, gave the right answer; “You shall love your God, with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” An excellent legal response.
However, the scholar was not content with just the right words, he wanted to be proven as being righteous, of having the right intent, and so he asks Jesus to define “neighbor.” In other words, he was asking Jesus to approve of him. He believed, as a result of his knowledge of the law, that he was righteous and he wanted Jesus to affirm his self-righteousness.
However, that is not what Jesus did.
When the scholar was asked to identify the righteous individual in the parable, he replied, “The one who treated (the victim) with mercy.”
The righteous person was not the “priest”. It was not the one who adhered to the religious rules, guidelines, and rituals… only. It was not the one who attended church when they were supposed to. It was not the one who said all the prayers, wore the right medal, or observed the sacred days, feasts, and traditions… only. The righteous person is the one who responds to others with mercy.
The righteous person was not the “Levite”. A Levite was an individual “set apart” for the care of and the service in the temple. They were also the teachers of the Jewish Law. They were not the priests who were consecrated for the sacrifice at the altar, rather they were individuals set aside for the instruction and the service of the people… possibly, dare I say, the deacons.
Yet, even the person who was responsible for understanding and teaching the law to others. The one person whose responsibility it was to help others live out their faith in real and tangible ways, was not considered righteous. Why? Because the Levite lacked mercy.
My brothers and sisters in Christ. We here, this day, have been called to be righteous men and women of God. We, the baptized, are dependent upon the mercy of God for our righteousness, for without his mercy none of us will inherit eternal life. However, if we fail to respond to the needs of others, regardless of their race, color, culture, or customs in mercy, and with mercy, we are living in disobedience to God.
If we put conditions on our mercy. If we deem that those who are of different faiths, different beliefs, different opinions, or of different sexual orientations as not deserving of mercy, than we are living in disobedience to God
Jesus’s instruction to the self-righteous scholar of the law some 2000 odd years ago is also our instruction today. We must go and do likewise. We must treat others with kindness, compassion, and forbearance. Our mercy is our charitable actions as we attempt to meet the spiritual and bodily needs of those whom we have been given an opportunity to do so. Just as those 2 men, many years ago, came to my aid, in a time of legitimate need, so too should we strive to be merciful to all, especially those who are in the greatest need.