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July 10, 2022
Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10: 25-37
I’ve always struggled with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Partly it’s because its message is so obvious: we’re supposed to stop and help people in need. Of course. What else is there to say?
But really the problem is that I don’t want to stop and help. I’m so sunk into myself and my own problems, so lacking in compassion and concern, I just keep on walking. I’m too selfish. I resist the parable because I’m the Levite. I’m the Priest.
Or I’m the man who has been beaten by the robbers and left by the side of the road. We all are. Anxiety has beaten us up. Struggle and work and the long, hard days have robbed us of our energy and capacity. Everything we read in the news, everything we know about ourselves: it all leaves us feeling stranded and abandoned.
We aren’t the Samaritan. We need the Samaritan.
And we just have to admit this, we just have to face this, because it’s God who works through us, it’s Christ who inspires us with his love. We can only love God if he gives us the gift of loving him. We can only love our neighbors if he gives us the gift of loving them. We can only love ourselves if he gives us the gift of that love.
Last week Barb and I spent a day at the beach. That evening we went to a nice restaurant for dinner. It was crowded and they had to seat us at the bar, and as we sat there on the stools we watched the bartender, a young woman, running back and forth trying to serve everyone.
There was a man at the bar, an old man, in his seventies or eighties, sitting by himself a little further down. After a while, the bartender stopped and asked how he was doing, and he said, this is the anniversary of my wife’s death, she died two years ago today, and this was her favorite place.
Then this busy young woman, this harried, overworked bartender, she stopped, and she stood there, and she talked to that lonely man. She listened to him. She didn’t say anything profound. She wasn’t a Levite. She wasn’t a Priest. She looked at him, and she stopped, she listened, and I thought, go and do likewise, go and do likewise, and for a moment the bartender’s kindness and the old man’s grief and the mystery of death and all the stories and the sadness in that crowded place, it all felt like grace, the Spirit was there, moving in others and moving in me, and it was a clear, warm summer evening, and the sun was setting into the ocean, and the waves were coming in and going out, and the love was in me, too, the kindness was in me, Christ was in me, and I was no longer trapped, I was no longer caved in on myself. I was free. I was free to love others.
My brother Ted has been diagnosed with Type Two Diabetes, and he’s taking it very seriously. He’s reading about diabetes. He’s managing his diet. He’s amazed at how addictive sugar is. He’s amazed at how his mind has cleared since he stopped putting all that sugar and all those chemicals into his body.
The other day he was sitting at his computer—he works from home—and he looked out the window and saw a hummingbird, hovering at his flowers, and the thought came into his mind: there’s the sweetness.
There’s the sweetness.
That thought, I’m sure, came from Christ. I know it did. That was Christ. All things were made through him and all things were made for him, hummingbirds and oceans and bartenders and you and me, all things continue in being in him, he is not far away, he is not in the sky, he is here, in every moment, and in that moment he broke through to my brother, he could feel it, and when he called and told me about it, when he shared this moment, Christ broke through to me, too, through my selfishness, my sadness.
The word is not far away. The parables are all around us. The word is in our hearts and in our minds. In our glucose levels. In the cells of our bodies.
I take the scholar as a symbol of those who think faith is just a matter of ideas, of being able to repeat back abstract, theological principles, and not a question of our own lived experience, of what actually happens in our lives, and maybe the Levite and the Priest have the same problem. They’re not just hypocrites, they’re intellectuals, as in a sense we all are when we argue and fight and beat each other over the heads with the Catechism. It’s the big irony, since in the end what the Catechism says again and again is that Christ is mystery, Christ is love, and his love is given, not earned. It’s beyond us.
When people talk to me about becoming Catholic, or about unbecoming Catholic, they usually want to talk about doctrines they can’t accept or do, but that’s not it. That’s putting the cart before the horse. “The secondary role of doctrine is vital to understanding biblical religion,” George Dennis O’Brien says.
What leads the religious believer is not a statement of belief, a dogma, but some lived actuality. We don’t start with theological doctrine and then instance reality; we start with the given reality and then try to understand what there is about it that the theologian may be pointing to. When the angels appeared over the stable in Bethlehem they did not say, “Behold, I have brought you a topic for discussion.”
Charity is a way of knowing. Whatever we do for the least of these, Jesus says, we do for him. Jesus tells the scholar to go and actually do something not just because it’s good for others but because it’s good for him, because in helping someone else he will know God in a way he never could in the abstract. He will touch him. He will feel his skin. His breath.
When Gerard Manley Hopkins was asked how we can better understand the doctrines of the Church, he said “give alms.”
When the angels appeared over the bar as the waves were coming in, when the angels appeared outside my brother’s window, hovering at the flowers, they were saying, behold, all things continue in being in him, and he is present in all things, he is the light, and the light is not overcome by the darkness. They were saying, this is love, not that you loved me but that I first loved you. They were saying, you are not abandoned, you are not alone, however dark the world seems and however overwhelming, I am here and I am with you. Open your eyes. Stop. Listen. And then go out into the world. Go out and serve.