July 10, 2016 — Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
On the one hand, it may seem as if the Lord asks and expects much from us, but does He really? Or, do our attitudes and lifestyles get in the way? In today’s society we have many challenges when it comes to being disciples of the Lord and living as good stewards. Some of these challenges are pointed out in today’s readings for this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy is part of a sermon that Moses was giving to his people. In fact, the entire Book of Deuteronomy consists of three sermons given by Moses, and today’s reading is drawn from the third sermon. This particular sermon offers comfort to the people, because even if they should prove unfaithful, their repentance and God’s forgiveness can provide them with a solution.
Moses recognizes the challenges they face, which parallel in some ways the challenges we face today. Moses says the solution, however, is “something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you only have to carry it out.” That is the same for us. The Lord’s expectations can indeed be an ordeal for us, but the answer is always within us and within the constructs of our faith. God is with us; God will help us; and God will forgive us when we fail.
St. Paul is trying to make it clear in the Second Reading from his letter to the Colossians that Christ is the Great Redeemer. Again forgiveness and redemption are available to us through Him. Paul presents Christ as the “image of the invisible God.” The Greek word “image” as used by Paul here has two meanings. In Greek the word was eikon. It does mean image as in a likeness, but it also means manifestation, as God is fully revealed in Christ. God is called invisible because in a sense we can never visualize or know God. However, we know God and can see Him through Christ.
Just as Moses maintains that God is within the people and they must find Him and know Him, Paul is telling us that Christ is within us, and again we must seek Him and find Him, because it is only through Him that we can live and be His disciple. We can only be redeemed through Christ (“…making peace by the blood of his cross through him.”), but the point is that we can be redeemed. As difficult as it may seem, redemption is within our grasp.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, our Gospel reading from St. Luke, has been recognized by many as one of the most significant items of all Jesus’ teaching, and certainly perhaps the best-known parable. Both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI often referred to this parable. In fact, in his first Encyclical Letter (Deus Caritas Est — God is love) Pope Benedict devotes an entire chapter to the Good Samaritan Parable. The gist of his message is that Jesus redefined who a neighbor was, explaining it was not just those who lived nearby or countrymen, but anyone in need, anyone we can help.
The Good Samaritan endorsed that idea of who a neighbor was. However, there are some aspects of the parable that require more knowledge. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho, where Jesus set the parable, was very familiar to those to whom He was speaking. It is 18 miles long and has a steep and winding decline, with many turns and rocks along the way (Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level, while Jericho is 800 feet below sea level). It was a dangerous and treacherous road, and robbers were known to hide in the rocks along the way and attack those who went by. We may look at the priest and the Levite who chose to pass the victim and refused to help with a doubting eye. However, they, too, were facing obstacles and challenges to being a good neighbor.
Surely, they thought they were in danger, and pausing to help the man might make it worse, as he may well have been “bait” placed there by bandits hidden nearby. The key was that the Samaritan trusted God. It is the same challenge we face when it comes to being a neighbor, a steward, and a disciple. Do we trust the Lord enough to accept the risks? The Good Samaritan did.