Wednesday, September 23 2020
The Gospel of Luke has been known in Latin American Theology as the gospel showing the Tenderness of God.
Today Luke instructs us, in one of those extraordinary moments when Jesus references the Old Testament, considered by the Jews to be the absolute Law and the only authority for religious life, in answers to concerns about eternal life.
Jesus establishes a fraternal dialogue with a Jewish teacher of law who tries to prove Jesus' knowledge of Israel's tradition and religion.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? or Who is my neighbor? these are questions that we have asked ourselves many times in the past and also in this day.
But Jesus in today's parable gives a master class to the teacher of law. Focusing his response on the well-known and venerated text of the Shema: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. "
This means that the love of God and love of our neighbor have an inseparable relationship at the moment of understanding our mission as Christians. That is why Jesus' dialogue continues with the teacher of law, because he still did not understand what to do to inherit eternal life.
Who should we love? this is the key question of today's gospel.
Jesus tells us a biblical story, with instruction to love our neighbor. The teacher of the law then asks him: «And who is my neighbor? ». This is the question of one who only cares about fulfilling the religious law of Israel. That is why he is interested in knowing who he should love and whom he can exclude from his love. The teacher of law does not think about the sufferings of others.
On the other hand Jesus, who lives alleviating the suffering of those he meets on his way, breaking the law of the Sabbath or the rules of purity, responds with a story that denounces provocatively all religious legalism that ignores the love of those in need.
The story goes: On the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho, a man has been assaulted by bandits. Assaulted and stripped of everything, he remained on the road half-dead, abandoned to his fate. We do not know who he is. Only that he is a "man." It could be any of us, any human being who suffers from violence, illness, discrimination, misfortune or despair.
"By chance", continues our story, a priest appears on his way. The text indicates that it is by chance, as if the priest had nothing to do with a human being in need there. Rather, that priest must devote himself to worship and prayers, placing his identity in a religious life that he cannot see beyond the walls of the Temple or the Church. And that, as a result of this, their interpretation of life and society where they live can be really poor when it comes to understanding the relationship between faith, religious life in the temple or the Church and the needs of others. That is why the priest goes along without stopping, because his compassion cannot go beyond the words and the empty prayers recited during the worship in the temple.
But the Levite also come along; just as the priest he also feels identifies only with the needs of the Temple and his inner world. Forgetting that: “Faith is concrete action of what we say”. That is why the Apostle James reminds us in his letter "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works".
That is why when religion is not centered on God the friend in our life or God the father of those who suffer, we can run the risk of becoming religious without a heart.
Finally, a good Samaritan appears in our story, a foreigner excluded because of his racial identity. And all of us who have carefully read the Bible know that there was intense racial hostility between Jews and Samaritans. The Jews were forbidden to say (Amen) at the end of any prayer presented by a Samaritan. The Samaritans were considered strangers.
But the good Samaritan instructs us in an important lesson for life. It does not matter where we are from or what our nationality or our religious identity is. The most important thing is to be a loving/ caring neighbor for others.
"Neighbor", in the Old Testament, is equivalent to "brother", that is, to any member of God's people, of the same covenant. To be a neighbor of someone is to enter into a friendly or loving companionship with him or her. From a prophetic perspective, "neighbor" means "the other", not just the "brother". That is why Luke does not enter into theoretical controversies; he is more concerned with making the saying: "do the same," and you will live. What matters is the rule of life, and not the dissertation. Hence the exemplary account of the behavior of the good Samaritan.
Jesus shows us that the neighbor is not simply the "next", nor only the brother of blood or of faith: he is also the needy, the helpless, whether patriotic or foreign, friend or enemy. The great commandment of love for God is united in Scripture to the commandment of love of neighbor. This second commandment is a sign and faithful reflection of the first. Neither the Jewish priest (concerned about the cult) nor the Levite (obsessed with the law) discover their neighbor. And they do not understand that what God wants is "acts of mercy."
Whoever fulfills the Christian law of loving his neighbor complies with the whole law, since this universal love is the culmination of Jesus' will and testament. And although in our society the confrontations and antagonisms abound over who is our neighbor today. The Gospel invites us to always prevail in acts of compassion and mercy.
When we practice in our personal lives: compassion, mercy, love, reconciliation and respect for one another we become as or like the good Samaritan.
We have seen for decades throughout the world, that hate produces more hatred, that racism produces more racism, that fanaticism produces more fanaticism. Recall the genocide in Rwanda that ended the lives of between 800,000 and more than one million people injured in 1994, in a racial war between clans. Before the genocide, Rwanda was considered one of the nations with the largest number of Christians in the central African continent. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Rwanda commented, in an interview, that during the genocide, Christian leaders of some denominations, who were in charge of preaching and praying for the churches and the country, were the first to take up arms in response to the violence. Although, it is fair to say that many other Christians lost their lives in a peaceful attempt to stop the violence. This is a sad story that reminds us, to act so that such hurt never again occur.
The Apostle St. John reminds us in his letter that no one can love God unless he loves his brother and his sister first. That is why today the Gospel invites us to a deep reflection, invites us to remember that: those who sow love will reap love. The gospel invites us to remember the words of the Apostle St. Paul when it states: do not be defeated by evil but overcome evil with good.
The invitation for today that we remember the International Day of Peace is to be a Samaritan to others. Be a Samaritan church for others. A church that heals the wounds of those who have been mistreated, a church that gives back hope to those who have lost hope, the church that shares hospitality with strangers and that denounces injustice anywhere in the world.
Finally, I would have liked if St. Luke finish the story in today's Gospel. What would have been the reaction of that Jew to know that a Samaritan had become his neighbor?
"Go and do the same." Jesus tells us today. The whole message of Jesus is synthesized in something so practical and concrete. There are no great concepts or elaborate theories. The message is clear and focused on practice, a loving and compassionate practice.
That is why it is said, with reason, that: “compassion constitutes the test that verifies the authenticity of the spiritual path of any religion in the world”.
To reach God, who is our goal, we need to stand on the path together with our neighbor and become good Samaritans for the needy. Amen.