In today’s Gospel, the author Luke uses a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer to lay it right out for us: What’s our goal: eternal life. What we must do to inherit eternal life: follow God’s command - 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. If we do this Jesus promises us that we will live. How wonderful!
Seems easy enough, right – to love God and others. But as we know, it isn’t. Sometimes in our pain, our suffering, our grief we have a hard time loving God. Fortunately or coincidentally, this Thursday, Sister Mauryeen O’Brien, who was the former principal of our parish school and a renowned author and speaker on bereavement, will be speaking to the parish about how we can work through the process of grief when someone we love dies and at the same time grow in our relationship with God. We will meet in the Gathering Space at 7:00 p.m. I invite you and encourage you to bring a friend.
We also know that it is not easy to love others as we should. Sure it is easy to love our spouse, our children, our parents and siblings, our friends – most of the time. But to love a stranger or even our enemies is a whole other thing. So, it can be argued that the lawyers’ question – who is my neighbor whom I should love – is a legitimate question.
Moses reminds us in today’s first reading that God’s command to love “…is not too mysterious and remote…It is not up in the sky…Nor is it across the sea…No, it is something very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts; we have only to carry it out." And as we sung in today’s Responsorial Psalm: The law of the LORD refreshes the soul and it causes our soul to rejoice.
To love then is part of who we are – our very being and fiber, in our mouths and hearts, it brings us peace and joy. It is what we are made to do. We naturally desire to love and be loved. AND, it is for this reason that we feel such great pain when we sin – when we offend God and others, when we don't love as we are called to love.
However, just like the priest and the Levite in today’s Gospel, we can easily find reasons to not love as we should.
But remember, we were made to love and called to love with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.
So I am struck by the line that Luke attributes to the Samaritan when he came upon the victim: he “was moved with compassion at the sight.” To make his general point of helping others, the author Luke could have just jumped to the fact that the Samaritan helped the victim, his neighbor.
Luke didn’t, he first states that the Samaritan was moved by compassion and THEN, because of his compassion for the victim, he flooded the victim with love: pouring oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them; lifting him up on his own animal, taking him to an inn, and caring for him with his own money.
This expression of compassion is important because for the Samaritan and for each one of us, we can’t really love OR act upon that love, if we don’t first have compassion.
Compassion is really the combination of two things: empathy and mercy. To have empathy we self-LESS-ly look to the needs of others, we actually put our self in the place of another, to walk their shoes, we identify with the thoughts and feelings of another. And then we show mercy. To be merciful is to treat someone better than they might deserve. Without passing judgment we treat others not as their words or actions might merit, but by the standard of how we wanted to be treated.
To show compassion is to suffer with the wounded and the suffering, to share their pain and agony. Compassion demands that we move outside our comfort zone as we reach out to others in need. It means that we get our hands and even our reputations dirty.
This is how Jesus, the Good Samaritan par excellence, showed compassion. Although he was God, he did not hesitate to humble himself to the point of becoming a man, welcoming the poor and the outcast, curing the sick, suffering for our sins, and giving his life for us.
So how do we show such compassion? We must recognize the dignity, the goodness, the humanity of our neighbor. We must acknowledge that every person, regardless of the color of their skin, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religious creed is a creature of God – loved by God and to be loved by each one of us. Our love for others must be as wide as God's love. No one is excluded. God's love is also full of mercy and is unconditional. So we must be with others.
Jesus instructs the lawyer at the end of today’s Gospel to "Go and do likewise." To be compassionate, to love and care for others – just not friends and family, but everyone! And so it is with you and me. We must acknowledge the dignity and goodness of those around us – our spouse, our children or parents or siblings, our co-workers, as well as the homeless person, the illegal immigrant, the unwed mother, the prisoner. We must put aside our assumptions and prejudices and view every person as a creature of God – a person of dignity, goodness and love. Then filled with empathy and mercy, we can give self-LESS-ly of ourselves to others. We can do what we desire to do naturally – what is in our mouths and hearts, what brings us joy and peace: To love with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind.
If we do this, we are promised life – eternal life.
So, I say to you: Go and do likewise, so that you may live!