15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Today’s Gospel
As Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem, he is confronted by a scholar of the law who wants to test him. The lawyer asks what we must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks the expert to answer this question, “What is written in the law?” The man responds quoting Deuteronomy. This verse is one of the most important prayers in Judaism, and it was said twice a day in Jesus' time. Love of God and love of neighbour are what is required for eternal life. Jesus' response is simple, “Do this and you will live.” Having been shown up by Jesus, the lawyer tries another question: Who is my neighbour whom I must love like myself? In the society of Jesus' time, with its distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, clean and unclean, this was a trick question. Jesus responds with one of the most beautiful of all the parables, the Good Samaritan which is found only in Luke's Gospel.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho descends 3,300 feet in just 17 miles. Its narrow passes and rocky terrain made it an easy place for bandits to wait for travellers. The traveller in this parable is identified only as “a certain man.” Luke uses this phrase in many of his parables so that the audience, Jew or Gentile, could identify with the man. After the attack, the man is left for dead, naked and bleeding on the side of the road. A priest comes along, but rather than helping, as one might expect, he moves to the other side of the road. Another religious person comes along, a Levite who assists in the Temple. His reaction is the same as the priest's. Both of them choose to not even find out if the man is alive. A third person comes along. The listeners would probably expect him to be an Israelite. This would make the parable a criticism of the religious leadership. Instead he is a Samaritan, an Israelite's most hated neighbour. Samaritans were descendants of Jews from the northern part of the country, who had intermarried with Gentiles and did not worship in Jerusalem. The Samaritan not only goes over to the injured man but cleans his wounds, puts him on his own animal, takes him to an inn to recover, and promises to pay all his expenses. The hated enemy is the compassionate neighbour in this parable.
Jesus has demolished all boundary expectations. It is not social definitions such as class, religion, gender, or ethnicity that determines who is our neighbour. A neighbour is a person who acts with compassion toward another. The point becomes not who deserves to be loved as I love myself, but that I become a person who treats everyone with compassion. When Jesus asks the lawyer who was the neighbour in the story, the lawyer can't bring himself to say it was the Samaritan. All he says is that it was “the one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus' response was similar to that of the first discussion: “Go and do likewise.” The lawyer, and we, know what is right. The key is to do it.
Today is Sea Sunday when we have the opportunity to remember and pray for seafarers, their families and all who support them. It is a day of remembrance, prayer and celebration, and an opportunity to think about and thank those seafarers who work tirelessly throughout the year bringing us goods we often take for granted. 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea and for a very large number of people working in shipping, this represents a way of life. The life of a modern seafarer can be dangerous and lonely - they may spend up to a year at a time away from home, separated from their family and loved ones and often working in harsh conditions. The Apostleship of the Sea is a Catholic charity supporting seafarers worldwide. It provides practical and pastoral care to all seafarers, regardless of nationality, belief or race. Its port chaplains and volunteer ship visitors welcome seafarers, offer welfare services and advice, practical help, care and friendship. The Apostleship of the Sea in Great Britain is part of an international network known to the maritime world as Stella Maris, working in 334 ports with 227 port chaplains in 59 countries. The Apostleship of the Sea relies wholly on voluntary contributions and to aid in this work, there will be a retiring collection taken at all masses today.