15th of the Year, 10 Jul 22
Does superman ever swear? Do the members of Paw Patrol ever tell lies? Does Postman Pat sometimes look through the mail and see what someone has ordered? In all these things - and I hope there aren’t too many children listening intently - the answer is “probably,” and I hope that doesn’t shock anyone.
In society today we so often categorise people as either good or bad. People we love, especially if we have idolised them, and certainly when they die are good. People who play for the opposing football team, members of political parties with which we disagree (perhaps all politicians!), people from a particular country we dislike or mock: these people are bad. And, of course, one person we always put in the category of good is ourself! And we may be sitting they’re patting ourselves on the back thinking, ‘no I realise it’s not that straight forward’ and well done you if that’s true, but even if we recognise those in the category of good also do bad things the likelihood is we still have a category of those who are bad. They might not people whom we have met, but quite often in the fallen human mind there are people who have done particular things who are just bad through and through: pedophiles, rapists, mass murderers etc.
There’s a huge problem with categorising people and prejudging them because of one thing we know about them, whether this is their race, their sexuality, their sex, their class, their education, their financial status, where they buy their clothes from. Indeed it is wrong for us to do so. And this applies to individuals who have committed particular crimes, particular sins. This is important for us to remember when we hear the wonderful piece of teaching in today’s Gospel: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. “Who is my neighbour?” the rich man asks Jesus, born in a stable, remember. Our Lord paints a picture of someone who is left for dead. People we would otherwise think reputable - as good - come along: a priest and a Levite. And they do nothing. They ignore him. They’re not rude to him. They don’t kick him while he’s down or anything like that which would be so obviously wrong: they just ignore him. They pretend they’ve not seen him. And it’s the Samaritan who does something to help. The Samaritan is the person we would have put in the bad category were we the original listeners of our Lord. But he - the outsider, the surprise, the misfit - he is the one we’re told to emulate.
So, let’s not say there are good people and there are bad people.
Brothers and sisters, nor are we to have a negative view of humanity. When we say, “Things are terrible out there … the world is an awful place … no point in having more children …” etc etc we have despaired and this is the opposite of our vocation to receive the faith, love and hope with which God wants to fill our hearts. This a view point that will lead us to fear humanity for we will get hurt and all this will lead to is fearing of our selves and the decisions we make, a hollowing out of life, a greater nervousness. In contrast, we believe God created us in His image and He looked on us after all the amazing things of earth and sea and sky and stars and Heavens and He still looked on us and saw that we were very good. He invites us to be in Heaven with Him and our being here today shows we are up for that invitation and are trying to say ‘Yes’ to God. And despite the fact that we are good people who fail to live up to our vocation, Jesus still comes and wants us to have life in abundance (St John 10:10).
We see this perhaps in the Lawyer who asks Jesus the question - “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” - which leads to this parable of the Good Samaritan. At one level, the lawyer’s a good sort, he knows the summary of the law: “You have answered right,” Jesus says. Indeed one ancient commentator (St Cyril of Alexandria) wonders if this praise from the Lord led the lawyer to be filled with pride. But why is he asking this question in the first place? St Luke - who is the only Gospel writer to include this Parable - has explained this to us already: it’s to disconcert Jesus, or a better translation could be to put Jesus to the test. Earlier in the Gospel Jesus has already quoted the Old Testament commandment not to put God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16 noted in St Luke 4:12) and rebuked Satan for encouraging Him to do so. We put God to the test when we say, “Oh, God understands this sin I’ve committed. He’ll forgive me for doing this or not doing that.” We put God to the test when we say, “If I do such-and-such, God will reward me.” A good person who knows the summary of the Commandments, sins in this Gospel passage by putting Jesus to the test.
Similarly the priest and the Levite who feature in the parable. At one level they were doing exactly the right thing by passing over to the other side for it is assumed they were going up to Jerusalem and they would have become ritually unclean according to the ancient law had they gone to investigate the body of a man who was “half dead,” an important phrase in the parable our Lord tells. Here again are good people who do the wrong thing, perhaps not intending to be unkind. This serves as a warning to us. There are certain elements assessing whether an action is morally right or not: our intention, our object (that which it is done to) and its effect. Sometimes our intentions will be right because let’s face it we’re good people but we’ll have made the wrong call. That which is wrong continues to be a sin but is less grievous when we believe it to be right.
Note, all the characters in the parable are on a journey. The Church has always been understood as a place of pilgrimage, a gathering of travellers. Our identity is forged in this regard by Moses leading the people in to the wilderness through the waters of the Red Sea to receive the Ten Commandments on route to the Promised Land. Each of us is on a journey. We don’t come preoccupied with our own journey but aware we may have some crucial role in another’s. There was a woman in the Church where I was a young teenager who I hardly knew but she’d just been Confirmed by the Bishop. She was new-ish to the Church and she said to me, “You’d be a great priest,” and that really encouraged me because she wasn’t a Church leader and because she was new to the faith. She helped me in that tiny way on my journey, for which I am thankful.
The Samaritan takes the wounded person to an inn, going the extra mile with him, even more so by offering to come back the next day to see how much more needs to be paid for the person’s care. St John Chrysostom sees the Inn as an analogy of what we the Church are to be and I think it’s a glorious contribution to the vision for our Church family: “The Inn is the Church, which receives travellers, who are tired with their journey through the world, and oppressed with the load of their sins; where the wearied traveller casting down the burden of their sins is relieved, and after being refreshed is restored with wholesome food. And it is here said, “and took care of him.” For outside is everything that is conflicting, hurtful and evil, while within the Inn is contained all rest and health.” Let’s care for one another here, each other’s spiritual and physical wellbeing.
We’re reminded of the need for patience with each other when we begin Mass with a General Confession: “I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and and sisters, that I have sinned.” In other words, ‘Look, I’m a sinner, be patient with me. And I will try to be patient with you.’ This is an excellent way to cement the bond that exists between us as we gather as members of Christ’s Body the Church to worship the Lord our God who loves it when He sees us living together in unity (Psalm 133:1). St Ambrose commenting on the parable notes, quite powerfully I believe, “relationship does not make a neighbour, but compassion, for compassion is according to nature. For nothing is so natural as to assist one who shares our nature.” In other words when we look at each other and see the other to be just another soul loved by Jesus and redeemed by His Cross, we will most instinctively be compassionate towards them and how delighted will God be with us. Let’s not divide and tear up our human nature by saying some people are good and others are bad.