Sunday, 10 July 2016

Week 15 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the perfect stories we find in the gospels, so perfect that further words can seem redundant. Which does not prevent those further words from being uttered, even here.

The lawyer's intention is to test Jesus, to disconcert him as another translation puts it. Jesus will have disconcerted the lawyer far more fundamentally than the other way round. First of all by his radical answer to the lawyer's question 'who is my neighbour'. Cutting through whatever debates might have been going on about this in scholarly or religious circles Jesus simply says 'anybody and everybody you happen to come across who needs your help'. There is no question of trying to decide where the boundaries of neighbourliness are to be set: anybody, everybody, in need of your help, is someone who calls on you to be a neighbour.

And that is the second way in which the reply of Jesus is disconcerting. As so often he turns the question round turning it into an active rather than a passive one: 'who is my neighbour (so that I should be kind to him)' is the lawyer's question; 'which of them was neighbour to the man who fell among robbers' is Jesus' question. The passive aspect of the question has been cleared up: anybody and everybody can be someone to whom you should be neighbourly. Now what does it mean to be neighbourly and how do we find the resources within ourselves to live like that?

That can make the parable seem like a moral tale purely and simply: follow the example of the Samaritan in the story, go and do the same yourselves. Where to find the ability, though, to act like this, and particularly where our neighbour is not someone towards whom we have any natural attraction. This is where a very ancient interpretation of the parable can help us. According to this interpretation the Good Samaritan is Jesus. The one who has fallen by the road is Everyman, the human being in need of salvation. The Word of God, the Eternal Son, comes to help lift us up and restore us to health and to life. Other aspects of the story are then interpreted to fit with this: the oil and wine are the sacraments of the Church that heal and strengthen, the inn is the Church, the innkeeper the ministers of the Church, and so on.

Placed as it is with the readings from Deuteronomy and Colossians, it seems appropriate to recall this ancient Christological reading of the parable. The Word is very near to you, we hear in the first reading. Yes, in the neighbour, we can say, the call of neighbourliness is right beside me, in front of me, coming around the corner. But in the Word Incarnate, the law has come very near to us and through the Scriptures that we hear and the sacraments that we receive, the Word comes into us and abides in us. So the more we come to know Jesus and his way of being towards us, the more we belong to Him and live from his Spirit, the stronger our hope of finding within ourselves the resources to live like the Good Samaritan.

He is the image of the unseen God, we hear in the second reading. God present in Jesus comes to our assistance to lift us out of our difficulty and set us on our feet again. So it is not just a moral tale, an encouraging story of an admirable deed to encourage us to be moral in our turn. On this interpretation today's liturgy taken as a whole is also a reminder of how we can become like Christ, getting to know him, remembering the ways in which we have been helped when we have been needy and distressed, finding the capacity within ourselves to bring comfort to others who are afflicted just as we have ourselves been comforted.

It is a perfect story then, not just as a wonderful moral tale from the ancient world. It is also yet another door to the Perfect Story, the coming to dwell among us of the Word of God, full of wisdom and compassion, sharing his life and his spirit with us so that we might have some hope of living according to the great commandment he has identified.

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