The injunction/response given by Jesus to the scholar in the gospel answers the rhetoric which Moses put forward to the Israelites about where to find the commandment of the Lord. In the Old Testament, Moses helps the Israelites to identify how close the command of the Lord is to them in their day-to-day relationship with him. Moses completes his task of leadership and hands the baton over to Joshua to get the Israelites to the promised land. Where exactly would they find God’s law? Where would they hear his voice? Is this all about what is written in the book alone? Isn’t the answer surprising as they listen to Moses, "For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." Awesome!
The scholar who comes to Jesus in the gospel is thinking about the law as an abstract, just like the typical Israelites of Moses’ time. His question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” is fundamental, but his understanding of the means seems something beyond his reach. This man seamlessly recites the law for Jesus: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus is pleased at the depth of his knowledge, but that’s not all. Obviously, having the theory is good, but being practical is the demand of Christianity. Jesus probes him further, “do this and you will live.” Fulfilling the law is not found in the abstract principles. It does not reside in understanding the conceptual framework. Rather it is enshrined in a relationship that prioritizes the needs of one’s neighbor. In this encounter, Jesus pushes the Jewish scholar to identify who his neighbor is, and how much he can do to show love to this neighbor. Therefore, the conversation has to be stepped down to reality.
Luke, in this gospel, presents us with the actions and inactions of the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan, each missing or utilizing the golden opportunity to practice the law in their respective circumstances. The man who fell victim to brigands is the test for all of them. The priest fails to see in him the answer to the question about love and responsibility, so also the Levite. But the Samaritan provides a practical answer, different from a mere cognitive knowledge or conceptual definition of the law. The Samaritan is compassionately real. He attends to this stranger like a neighbor. He is moved with compassion at his sight. He pours oil and wine on his wounds. He bandages them. He lifts him up. He takes him to an inn, and cares for him. The Samaritan’s actions are based on God’s love. He is the neighbor.
What distinguishes these men is that whereas the priest and the Levite are searching for the law in the distant, in the fulfillment of their professional obligation, the Samaritan is moved from within. The law is written in his heart. His action is inspired by love. Herein lies the answer to the Scribe’s curiosity, so, Jesus puts the question back to him, to know which of the three, in his opinion is neighbor to the victim. Now he knows that it is the Samaritan. Still, that’s not enough to answer what Christ is asking him. He tells him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus is saying to each of us today, to go and do likewise. He wants us to see opportunities to be charitable at each moment in our daily lives. The question can be asked, which of these three categories of persons are we -the Priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan? How often do we pretend to be serious with our preplanned goal or agenda when confronted by the reality of showing compassion to someone around us? It does not matter as to the seriousness of what we think we have to do, comparing it to the need to help someone on our way. Perhaps the priest was attending to something really important, so also the Levite. Surely, they know how to recite the Shema in theory. Jesus’ challenge is that we all go and do likewise. We must be doers of the word not just hearers. To do likewise, we must go out of our way like the Samaritan.
Two stories strike me as I reflect on these readings today, one in relation to the opportunity presented to us while the other relates to the closeness of God’s law as indicated by Moses. To the first is a story told by a lady, Lisa, who was rushing to the salon to meet with her hair stylist. Lisa was running late for her appointment by the time she got to the parking lot. There, Lisa saw a woman crying in the open space. All that was in Lisa’s mind was to meet up with her appointment, so she hurriedly parked her car and rushed to the salon. Lisa remarked that she pretended not to see the crying lady because she was keen in getting her hair done. As she got to the salon, the stylist looked up the schedule and noticed that her appointment was in a week’s time, not that particular day. Lisa pleaded to have her hair done that day but the stylist insisted on her coming back since the stylist had another appointment that same time. Lisa was so disappointed, but explained that it was at that moment that it struck her to go and help the lady who was crying. By the time she came out to the parking lot, the lady was gone.
The second story is one I heard when I was a young seminarian. A bishop visited a parish and decided to walk around. He went into the chapel to say some prayer. On getting into the chapel, the bishop noticed that the tabernacle was open and saw the tabernacle key hanging on the door of the tabernacle. The bishop locked the tabernacle. Then he took the tabernacle key and put it inside the breviary belonging to the parish priest. When this bishop had left, the priest started looking for the tabernacle key. He and his household searched everywhere in the house and for days did not find it. The tabernacle is not something you break that easily without contacting the bishop, so the priest decided to seek the bishop’s permission for alternate way to open the tabernacle since the key is missing. It was at that time that the bishop asked him when last he prayed his divine office or used his breviary. That was how the key was found, not in a distant, hidden place, but metaphorically near.
Today, Moses says to us about God’s law, “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." Carry it out, we must! Christ says in the gospel, “Go and do likewise.” What is your attitude towards showing compassion to those on your way? How many times do you miss opportunities to do good? Do you really see your neighbor’s needs? Do you overlook those opportunities? The message for us today is that the truth is to be found in the very obvious place, in our hearts. It demands that we show God’s compassion to our neighbors. I challenge you to go home today and discover your neighbor’s needs this week. Be intentional about seeking that moment to help someone. Maybe you’ll see that neighbor on your way back from the church as you leave. Do not let the opportunity pass you by.
Readings: 1st- Deut. 30:10-14; 2nd- Col. 1:15-20; Gospel- Lk. 10:25-37