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Thursday, 7 July 2016

Reflection/Homily: Fifteenth (15th) Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C

Theme: Imitating Jesus, the Exemplary Lawgiver and the Ideal Good Samaritan 

The existence of law is necessary for the sustenance of peace and order in a given society. A good interpretation and understanding of the law is also necessary for the observance of the law. While civil laws are confined to geographical territories, divine laws transcend the limitations of geography or religion. In the first reading (Deut. 30:10-14) Moses addresses the issue of interpreting divine laws for proper understanding and observance. He made the Israelites understand that in divine laws, God gives, interprets and executes the law and so he urged them to obey the laws of God he had communicated to them. The language of divine laws is one anybody can understand such that one does not need an interpreter. They are clear and simple since God has written them in human hearts in a way that all men will understand. 

These divine laws as given by God are primarily contained in the Word of God. At a point in history, this Word of God which John the Evangelist identifies, became manifest in human form in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Jn. 1:16). As the second reading (Col. 1:15-20) puts it, he became the image of the invisible God. Thus, in Christ we have the giver of divine laws present. In the gospel reading (Luke 10:25-37) we find a teacher of the law coming to question the giver of the law on the means of eternal life. From their discourse on what the law says, Christ diverts the attention of the man from the identity of a neighbor to becoming a neighbor to anyone in need with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The author’s intention in narrating this event is to communicate Jesus’ definition of a neighbor and his call to become a good neighbor to all those in need irrespective of seeming barriers. Jesus talks about becoming a good neighbor not just to those who share geographical or religious boundaries with us but to anyone in need of our help. In this way, Christ teaches us to reach out even to those we consider as our enemies insofar as the means to attend to their needs are within our reach. One of the many lessons we can learn from this story is being compassionate towards the suffering. 

However, without prejudice to the literal and moral interpretations of this sacred story as intended by Christ which bothers on love and compassion for the suffering even an enemy, St. Augustine has a wonderful allegorical interpretation of this story which we cannot ignore in the quest to portray Jesus as an exemplary lawgiver. His interpretation has received various forms of approving and disapproving criticisms but modern biblical scholars do not write it off entirely since it does not contradict any of the Gospel messages but in fact, enhances faith in God. His allegorical interpretation identifies Jesus as the ideal Good Samaritan we have to imitate. (I have redacted his interpretation to better favour a Christo-ecclesiological interpretation).The man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho represents humanity in her journey from the baptismal font to the mundane world. The robbers represent the attack of the devil and sin on the soul robbing it of divine grace and living it almost spiritually dead.

The priest and Levite both represent religious traditions that place more emphasis on justice rather than mercy and so have no compassion for sinners but recommend immediate and severe punishment for them. (For example, the Law stipulated death rather than compassion for most offences). Jesus, the Good Samaritan comes to rescue and save fallen humanity neglected by these religious traditions. The water and oil represent the water and blood from his sacred sides with which he washed our sins and restored life to our wounded human nature. His donkey represents the cross, the inn represents the Church and the innkeeper represents the leaders of the Church. The two coins he deposited represent the Word of God and the Sacraments which are two essential things needed to enhance our salvation. The extra coin the innkeeper may spend represents other things such as Sacramentals which the Church employ in order to fulfill her salvific mission. His promise to return is parallel to the parousia.

Beloved friends, while we appreciate this interesting interpretation, let us not lose sight of the central message of the story. Jesus’ injunction to go and do likewise is therefore an invitation to imitate him in his boundless love and compassion. There are those who have really dealt with us but at one time or the other we find ourselves in positions to help them. Today’s message is therefore a challenge to offer people our help despite the relationship or gap that exists between us. Jesus introduces us into a new boundary of neighborhood that includes strangers and those who do not appeal to our sense of charity. This new boundary therefore makes us obliged to help them as long as we are able without considering their nationality, religion or even denomination. Do not practice selective-charity or close your eyes to the needy. Always offer your help unconditionally. God loves you. Happy Sunday.

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