Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Go and do likewise"

"[I]t is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out"- Moses (Deut. 30:14).

Jesus (referring to the two observant Jews and the Good Samaritan): "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?"

Scholar of the Law: "The one who treated him with mercy"

Jesus: "Go and do likewise" Jesus (Luke 10:36-37).

We all know that this is easier said than done because there are times when each one of us have not only been guilty of not showing mercy by way of omission, but have deliberately refused it to someone in need.

The Greek word for "mercy" that issues from the mouth of the scholar of the law in this passages is eleos, which also connotes "compassion" and "kindness." Eleos is a word that occurs with some frequency throughout the New Testament. In our uniquely Christian Scriptures, it usually refers to what God has done for us in Christ. For example, consider Ephesians 2:4, where St. Paul describes God as being "rich in mercy." In Latin, "rich in mercy" translates as dives in misericordia. Dives in misericordia is the title of Pope St. John Paul II's second encyclical letter, which begins by citing Ephesians 2:4: "It is 'God, who is rich in mercy' whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in Himself, has manifested Him and made Him known to us."

It is certainly true that we should be merciful because of the mercy the Father has given us in Christ, but it is often only God's mercy that enables us to be merciful. Many times it requires God's grace to bend us outward from ourselves toward the other in an effort to connect us to one another in charity. This is especially the case when it comes to those towards whom we may have some enmity, or who may have some towards us. This is summed up well a bit later in the second chapter of Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it (2:13-16)
As Jesus seeks to teach in today's Gospel, what we do we must do out of love, not by way of compulsion or obligation. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who noted that if you feel you don't love your neighbor, begin acting as though you do and your heart will usually follow. But if it doesn't, so what? Like prayer, reaching out to those in need is not first foremost about our feelings and affective disposition. In fact, it very often makes us nervous and uncomfortable.

We must begin to allow ourselves to be "moved," as was the Samaritan when he saw the man who was beaten and left for dead, by the plight of the other. Not least of which because in his need the other reflects my own need back to me, which is why, as Luigi Giussani powerfully asserted, "The true protagonist of history is the beggar." It is never enough for Jesus Christ to make Himself known to us. He bids us to make Him known to others in the manner of the Good Samaritan. This, my friends, is the New Evangelization and will be until Christ returns in glory (see Matthew 25:31-46).

It is our need to show kindness, mercy, and compassion that causes Jesus to hold up the Samaritan as an example and to say things like this to the Pharisees: "tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" (Matt. 21:31).

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