Lk 10.25-37                    Deut 30.10-14                    Col 11.15-20

And now it’s time for the old classic, which only Luke narrates, although it is right at the heart of Jesus’ fundamental teaching about the law of love in practice, well beyond the law, with its long list of rubrics, rules and regulations, which so concerned the Temple police, as we might call them.  They couldn’t see the wood for the trees, as Jesus puts them straight, and points to the answer of the first question, as to “Who is my neighbour?”

To their chagrin, no doubt, Jesus steps right over the issue of ritual cleanliness and purity, to highlight the human need of the victim here.  In fact, it could well be argued that the priest and the Levite, who knew all the details and restrictions of the law, were using it as an excuse not to get their hands dirty, by reaching down to the person in serious trouble and need of assistance.  Also, there was mutual hostility between the two groups of Jews and Samaritans, who just wouldn’t associate with each other, perish the thought!

Silvester O’Flynn OFMCap says of the lawyer here: “(He) was invited by Jesus to leave the safe, controlled world of casuistry, and discover the realm of love, where exciting possibilities live side by side with demands, risks and vulnerability.”

Now, we need to know a bit about the Samaritans.  Doctor Google tells me that they were a mixed bag of all kinds of people, including Israelites who missed the exile in Babylonian captivity when the Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722BC, and others imported by the Assyrians.

Yet, we see in the Gospels, Jesus countering the current thought by breaking down the barriers of misunderstanding and hatred, by not just telling stories like this one about the Good Samaritan, but also going out of his way to encounter in real life, Samaritans, along the way of his journey to Jerusalem, in Luke’s Gospel in particular.

There is the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel, then the ten lepers later in Luke, where only the 10% comes back to say thanks, the one expressing gratitude being a Samaritan.  We take the stories for granted, but perhaps without realizing the significance of Jesus highlighting the goodness and thoughtfulness of the detested outsider.  To traditional Jewish ears, and not just the higher ups of scribes, Pharisees, Levites and priests, this was abhorrent and a real shock to see. To them, “Good Samaritan” , which we take for granted, was an oxymoron!  Samaritans were even seen in a more negative light than pagans or non-believers, because they had the opportunity of conforming to Jewish law, but chose otherwise, to stick with their own evolving traditions, with faith in the one God of the Covenant.  So there was considerable common ground in fact, but, as usual, given human nature, emphasis given to the differences!

We’ve heard the story so often, it can lose its impact. Then again, we can consider the way in which the Christian message is lived in our own world and our lives.  It starts in our own environment, at home and beyond.  Over the last few weeks I’ve mentioned simple examples of the way in which the Gospel is applied, from the Winter Vinnies’ Appeal, to the Open the Doors Foundation for indigenous education, to supporting refugees and asylum seekers.  The good work is being done in our schools and our parish communities, often behind the scenes, in a non-judgemental way, in responding to those in need, in all sorts of directions.

Much has been said in recent days about the loss of particularly Christian faith in our own secular society of Australia, as indicated in the recent census, dropping from 61% in 2011 to 44% in 2021.  But it can’t just be measured by falling numbers of church attendees on a regular basis.  It is interesting how sacraments of initiation are still important to a majority of Catholics, even though we mightn’t see them so often.  We had a full church for Confirmation here in May, and will again for First Eucharist in springtime.  There is still an ongoing demand for Baptisms, and Christmas and Easter times bring in the crowds too.

It’s a changing perspective, perhaps, but there’s hope for the future here, as well as in the ongoing good works of outreach, reflected in but some examples I’ve given here.  We need to acknowledge the far broader scope offered by Catholic Church services in health care, welfare and education as well.  This all positive Gospel stuff being applied in all sorts of directions, not just here in church!

Paul Collins, an ex-MSC priest, current commentator and historian,  writes an article headed: “Christianity: A Dismal Future?” He strongly disagrees: “Christianity will most certainly survive and this isn’t the time for pessimistic despair… Christians need to become a committed, intentional minority, whose primary task is to create the lineaments of a better society, by living the Gospels and Christ’s message of service to the broader community.  Committed intentional communities are really the initiators and drivers of change in any society. The real challenge is to live in the secular world, not into some separate spiritual sphere. The world is not a ‘vale of tears’ (as I often say!), and French theologian Yves Congar, is absolutely right when he says that the church is challenged ‘by the world to re-join it, in order to speak validly of Jesus Christ’.”

And as an insightful young chap once said to me, in discussing this parable: “And the Good Samaritan even said he’d come back” to check up on the victim’s recovery, and make sure things were all covered and paid for, at the inn, where there was room. Today’s parable strikes to the heart of this call to live the gospel of love in practice, to reach out beyond the limits of our own structures and to evangelize by the people we are and what we do.  Surely we can see the relevance of Jesus’ message to our own lives and society. Jesus’ concluding command is clear, to the enquiring lawyer, and so to you and me too:

“Go and do the same yourself”.

john hannon                                                                                10th  July  2022

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