WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?

HOMILY FOR FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 19; Colossians 1:15-20 and Luke 10:25-37.

In today’s liturgy, we celebrate and acknowledge the God who is close to us both in His Word and in our neighbor. He is close to us through His Son as the image of the unseen God and as the Good Samaritan. He is close to us in all circumstances of life. In view of this, the theme: “who is my neighbour?” posed by a skilled debater, who is conversant with the law, wanting to justify himself and score some point in the debate becomes a key reference for our reflection.

In the first reading, God is present with us through His Word, which is found in the laws “You shall obey the voice of the Lord your God, and keep his commandments which are written in this book of the law, and you shall love God with all your heart and your soul… This Word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut. 30:10-14). The reading is part of the farewell message and final instruction of Moses to his people. This message underscores the importance of abiding with God through his Word. That is, living according to His commandments in the Scriptures. Through this reading, Moses reminds us that God is alive, active, and ever close to us in His Word. Therefore, we must seek Him in the scriptures by asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten the eyes of our minds (Eph 1:18). After the death of Moses, Joshua will tell the people, “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success” (Joshua 1:8).

In conjunction with the above, the gospel presents to us the lawyer and master of the law who stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there? (v.26). Jesus’ answer steers the debate toward the Scripture, the foundation of the Jewish life, and affirms the faithfulness to lead us aright. Having responded rightly to Jesus in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy to love God and neighbour, he went further to ask, “And who is my neighbour?On the surface level, he is asking Jesus whom he must love. At a deeper level, he is asking Jesus to define the boundaries for him to know who he is not required to love. In a broader sense of the Mosaic Law to love God and neighbour, Leviticus 19:34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” It was not enough for a Jew to love only a fellow Jew, but to extend this love. This prompted Jesus to narrate the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This parable is about living the Way of Jesus the new law, which is the law of love.  The Samaritans were seen by the Jewish people to be outside of the Law. They had intermarried with pagans and were considered impure (how some of us will not allow our sons and daughters to marry from certain tribes due to prejudice). Their practice of the Jewish faith was not as pure as the Jews.  They don’t travel to Jerusalem for the festivals, believing that they could worship God in other places (outside the temple). To the Jews, Samaritans were sinners because they were not as fervent in their faith as the Jews were.

The image of the priest and the Levite gives us a picture of the Jewish people who are strong followers of the law and who consider the law above every other thing. The priest and Levites are from Levi, but priests are also descendants of Aaron (Ex. 28:1). While the priests serve as mediators between humans and God and perform sacrifices and other rituals, the Levites assist the priests with these duties (Numbers 3:6ff). We expect compassion from them as men of God but they pass by on the other side. Perhaps, they were on their way to perform religious service, which was not specified or were disgusted by the scene and prefer not to dirty their hands and clothes or were conscious of the law of touching a dead body, which would render them impure for seven days (Numbers 19:11) and must go through the cleansing ceremony (Numbers 19:13,20). The law prohibiting a priest from touching a dead body is expressed in unequivocal terms, “The priest shall not go where there is a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother” (Lev. 21:11). However, the law is less strict for the Levite.

It could also be that they were afraid that the man had been placed there to lure them into an ambush like some of us fear to stop and help people in areas we consider unsafe, or they were overwhelmed at the prospect of transporting an injured man through the mountains and finding assistance for him in the next town. Whatever their reasons, the parable highlights that observing the letters of the law falls short of loving God and neighbour, which is the standard the lawyer has outlined to qualify for salvation. The concern for religious purity prevents the priest and Levite from acting as neighbour to the wounded man. But the Samaritan whom the Jews considered unclean, fulfills the requirements of the law to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Even with the action of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer was asked, “Which of these three do you think proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showered mercy on him” (vv. 36-37). He could not even bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan.’ His answer reveals he is not yet ready to accept the Samaritan as his neighbour.

On the question, “Who is my neighbour?” Christ leads us to define neighbour, not in terms of boundaries, but in terms of relationships and human needs. The person in need is the best candidate to be our neighbour, because such a person is almost likely to accept us. However, let us not be fast to demonize the priest and Levite here, because, at some moments in life, we too act as they did. We give a thousand and one reasons to omit good works. We have urgent duties that will not permit delay. There are moments we do not want to get dirty and moments we are afraid of stopping on a deserted road. There are moments we find ourselves overwhelmed with the logistics of helping other people and may likely end up with the phrase, “I can’t kill myself.” In such moments, let us recall that God is close to us in our neighbours, and whatever kindness or good we do towards them, we do it unto Him. In the evaluation of ourselves, let us ask, with whom do we identify ourselves in this parable? Like the wounded man in need of help or like the Good Samaritan? Like the priest or like the Levite? May the Lord help us to be like the Good Samaritan to all in need. Amen

Happy Sunday!

Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ

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