Monday, July 8, 2013

                                15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10‑14  Colossians 1:15‑20  Luke 10:25‑37

Some spiritual leaders make the quest for eternal life a matter of arcane doctrine and complicated ritual.  In today's readings Moses and Jesus challenge such notions by presenting the simplicity and accessibility of God's life giving command to love our neighbors who are as near as the person in need whom we may meet at any moment.  Let us take to heart the nearness of our God by listening to the words of the responsorial psalm: "Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live" (Ps 69).
Deuteronomy has Moses anticipate the future exile of the Jewish people in Babylon when they will be tempted to think that their loss of land and temple means that God is distant from them.  To refute this notion Moses tells Israel that God is not limited to a particular place, but is present everywhere through the words of his commandments that are written in the book of the law and in the hearts of those who have committed them to memory.  The commands to love God and neighbor are not “mysterious and remote;” nor are they “up in the sky” or “across the sea,” rather they are in the “mouths” and “hearts” of the Israelites who have learned and internalized the will of their God.
For the next four weeks the second reading will be taken  from the letter to the Colossians which attacks certain teachers who stressed obscure wisdom about such things as angels and  Jewish practices rather than the centrality of Christ as the agent of creation and redeemer (see Col 2:16‑23).  Against this phony religiosity the letter presents Christ Jesus as the fullness of God's revelation.  Today's reading is a hymn in praise of Christ as the agent of creation and redeemer.  To understand the mystery of God, the Colossians need look no farther than Christ, the "head of the body, the church,” and "the first‑born of the dead."
It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside
in him and, by means of him, to reconcile everything
in his person, everything . . . both on earth and in the heavens,
making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19‑20)
To understand the dialogue between the lawyer and Jesus in  today's Gospel we need to consider the previous section in Luke  where Jesus praises the Father for hiding his teachings from “the  wise and the learned” and revealing them to “the childlike”  (10:21‑22).  The lawyer is one of “the wise and learned” who prefers to debate the nuances of the law rather than live its teachings.  Luke tells us he "stood up to test" Jesus by asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   Jesus immediately refers the lawyer to the Jewish Torah and asks how he “reads” (interprets) it, and the lawyer responds with a correct reading by citing the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor.  Jesus concurs with the scholar's interpretation and challenges him, “do this and you will live.”  But, rather than accept Jesus' command, the lawyer, wishing "to justify himself," asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers with the incomparable parable of the Good Samaritan which turns the lawyer's world upside down.  When the priest and Levite, fellow Jewish countrymen to the lawyer, encounter the wounded man in the road, they “pass by on the opposite side.”  They may have cultic reasons for doing so (see Leviticus 21), but their behavior is reprehensible.  In contrast, a Samaritan, whom the Jews looked  down upon as not adhering to the Torah, responds with compassion and goes to extraordinary lengths to care for this stranger.  Not only does he treat his wounds, but he also delays his own journey, brings him to an inn, cares for him, and leaves money for further expenses.  This ritually unclean and socially outcast Samaritan is the opposite of the lawyer and the priest and Levite.  Notice how Jesus has subtly altered the lawyer's question by the end of the parable.  Rather than answering the lawyer's initial question, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus asks, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”  The lawyer is forced to concede: “The one who treated him with mercy.”  Jesus ends the meeting with the command to the lawyer and us: “Go and do likewise.”

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