Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

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Brian S. Lowery, O.S.A.
Convento S. Agostino
San Gimignano, Italy

Readings
Dt 30: 10-14
Ps 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
or Ps 19: 8, 9, 10, 11
Col 1: 15-20
Lk 10: 25-37

The Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable found in Luke’s gospel is a hero to all the world. Even the name, “Good Samaritan”, is a common term used by men and women of other great religions and distant cultures for all they wish humanity to become. He was the one who didn’t pass over to the other side when he saw the man lying in the road. He stopped even though he could have been in a hurry to get on with his journey. But it is especially because he took care of “the other”, someone who was “different”.

Luke presents another hero who was also a Samaritan (17, 16). He was the one man out of ten healed of leprosy who went back to thank Jesus, the only one to think about what had actually happened and who it was that made it happen. Jesus was surprised and said: “Has no one but this foreigner come back to give glory to God”.

But, hold on! Not all Samaritans are heroes in Luke’s gospel. Just a few weeks ago we heard about Samaritans who refused to welcome Jesus into their town because he was headed toward Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews (9, 51-62). They had no time for this “other”.

The behavior of Jesus’ companions wasn’t any better. In reaction to the Samaritans’ hostility they wanted to call down fire from heaven on them. So much for forgiveness, understanding, and respect. Jesus rebuked them both. Wouldn’t you love to know the words he chose to do that?

Does this all seem familiar? Changing the names of “the others” we can find many times and places in history where it all happened again and again with a pattern that occurs even today. In his parable Jesus highlighted the fact that the man he was commending to all of us - the man who stopped and cared for the other - was a foreigner. That must have upset his listeners immensely and made them quite uncomfortable. Luke’s mentioning that the only grateful one among the ten persons healed was a Samaritan would have been unpleasantly surprising. The townspeople’s hostility toward Jesus as he went to Jerusalem, the disciples’ intemperate desire for vengeance, and Jesus’ need to rebuke them all are a classic example of the famous “spiral of violence” that can go out of control and which we are all familiar with in our world today.

Jesus’ rebuke at that time must have been like what he is saying today through the saner voices that are speaking out. Will humanity ever grow into respecting and caring for “the other”? Or are we destined to go down the wrong road yet again? In all these chapters of Luke’s gospel Jesus seems to be sending us messages. First of all, through the compassion of our hero the Good Samaritan, he is saying: “Be compassionate. Slow down. Don’t go over to the other side. Allow yourself to be moved.”

Through the gratitude of the tenth man to whom he said: “Your faith has saved you” he is saying to us: “Remember what God has done for you”. Through his rebuke of the fiery and indignant disciples he is saying: “No violence! Rather: forgiveness, understanding, openness inclusiveness, and calm.”

However, Luke also tells us to be realistic, not naive. Not all Samaritans were heroic or grateful. They too were capable of narrowness, prejudice, and exclusiveness as anyone in our present complicated world.

Remember that the reason why Jesus was traveling through Samaria in the first place was to reach Jerusalem where his passion and redeeming death were awaiting him. His death would be followed by the resurrection and a victory over jealousy, pettiness, violence, and death as well. He had already “set his face firmly to Jerusalem” when all of the events we are speaking about today occurred (9, 51).

I like to believe that Jesus’ message of mercy in the parable of the Good Samaritan was heard also by young people around him. Two weeks from now that same message will be heard again by young people gathered from all over the world with Pope Francis, at the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland from July 25 to 31. Our prayer these days preceding the World Youth Day should be that young people today will hear the message of mercy and carry it into the future for all of us.