July 13, 2013

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

The Good Samaritan

In reflecting on today’s gospel, I spent way too much time reading about Torti v. Van Horn. This was a California court case, in which a “Good Samaritan” was sued for injuries she allegedly caused when pulling a friend from a car after an accident. The friend later wanted to sue her, a lower court said no, but the California Supreme Court said the suit could be allowed. The decision began with these words: “Under well-established common law principles, a person has no duty to come to the aid of another.”

In the light of that principle, the priest and the Levite in today’s parable did nothing wrong.

In the light of Torti v. Van Horn, they actually did the sensible thing.

In any case, now I know why the scholar of the law asked the questions he did. It’s what lawyers did in those days. It’s what lawyers still do today. They test each other. It’s a contest. They justify themselves. That’s just  lawyers being lawyers, I guess. (This might apply especially to law students.)

So, the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  was in that sense was an honest one. The scholar was testing Jesus, looking for a debate, specifically on Leviticus 19:18.

Context is everything.  If someone asks me what “right” means, the answer is, “it depends.”  Depending on the situation it can be the opposite of left, wrong, inappropriate, absurd, or, as a noun, privilege.

“Who is my neighbor” means, “define neighbor.” Here, too, from a legalistic perspective, it depends.  It can be the opposite of stranger (or alien), i.e. an acquaintance or relative; it can be the opposite of enemy, i.e. friend.

Another way to put the question would be: If I have to love my neighbor as myself, then I don’t have to love one who is not my neighbor. Who would that be?

Moses would have said:  the answer is obvious. (See the first reading.)

Jesus was up to the challenge, but didn’t use the typical legal method. Instead he told a story.

Paul writes in today’s second reading that Jesus is the one who reconciles all things for the Father, making peace by the blood of his cross. This is deeper than any legal language, and more effective teaching than any parable.

Actually, the law itself answered the scholar’s question, in Leviticus 19:34, which tells us: You shall love the stranger as yourself!

Jesus actually turns the question on its head. For him the question isn’t, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable asks, “Who should I be a neighbor to?” The answer is obvious.

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