Saturday, July 9, 2016

Being moved with compassion

Readings: Deut. 30:10-14; Ps. 69:14.17.30-31.33-34.36-37; Col 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

Having Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan as our Gospel reading for this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time could not have come at a better time. In our Gospel today Jesus delivers the parable in response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" In reply to the question that precipitated the dialogue, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?," Jesus responded in rabbinical fashion with a question of his own: "What is written in the law?" To which the "scholar of the law" questioning him, responded with what we, as Christians, recognize as the Two Great Commandments: "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." After telling him he answered correctly, the Lord says to his interlocutor, "do this and you will live."

It is important to point out that both of these commandments, indeed, arise directly from the law, from the Torah. The commandment to love God with one's entire being is set forth in the book of Deuteronomy, in the verse immediately following the Shema Yisrael, Deuteronomy 6:5. The second commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself is given in Leviticus 19:18. So, these were really nothing new to Jesus' questioner, or, presumably, to anyone listening to him in this pericope.

If read Leviticus 19:18 in its entirety, as well as the two verses immediately preceding, a good argument can be made that the neighbor to be loved "as yourself" is an Israelite's fellow Israelite: "Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." This is the crux of the matter in this exchange between Jesus and a scholar of the law. The inspired author of St. Luke's Gospel noted that the scholar "wished to justify himself" (always a dangerous proposition) and so he asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" It is this question that provided the Lord with the segue he needed, as it were, to lay down something radically new.

In order to grasp how truly radical Jesus' call is, it is necessary to understand how loathsome Samaritans were to Jews and vice-versa. One gets a sense of this mutual animosity in the narrative in St. John's Gospel about the Samaritan woman's encounter with Jesus at the well, which is one of the longest encounters Jesus has with anyone throughout the four canonical Gospels (John 4:4-42). Pick the group of people you are most inclined to despise and look down upon, then put a member of that group in the role of the Samaritan in Jesus' parable, then see that person become what theologian Fr. Jon Sobrino called the Good Samaritan: "an ideal, total human being" ("The Samaritan Church and the Principle of Mercy"). In this time of great violence and unrest that comes complete with no shortage of racial and religious divisions, not just in the U.S., but the world over, the importance of this parable for Christians, who fancy ourselves Jesus' disciples, cannot be exaggerated.

Let's not forget that in this parable the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead was seen and ignored in his misery by two observant Jews, who were apparently more concerned about maintaining their ritual purity than with helping a fellow human being in dire distress and need.

In the words of Sobrino, "The ideal human being, the complete human being" according to Jesus' Parable of the Good Samartian, "is the one who interiorizes, absorbs in her innards, the suffering of another— in the case of the parable, unjustly afflicted suffering— in such a way that this interiorized suffering becomes a part of her, is transformed into an internal principle, the first and the last, of her activity" ("The Samaritan Church and the Principle of Mercy"). In this parable we see love become mercy and, in turn, mercy become justice.

The Greek word translated as the phrase "moved with compassion" is transliterated splagchnizomai. It means to be moved in one's inward parts, one's bowels, deep within one's body. It's this same word that is translated as "moved with pity," or "moved with compassion," when applied to Jesus himself. In other words, upon seeing the man beaten and left for dead, the Samaritan had a visceral, or a gut, reaction and felt compelled to help the beaten and stranded man. This is what Sobrino means by interiorizing the suffering of others.

In short, the scholar's neighbor was not limited to his fellow Jews. Your neighbor is not your fellow Catholic, or even your fellow Christian, but the suffering person you encounter. As is suggested in our first reading, this is not highfalutin theology. Turning again to Sobrino's theological commentary on the Parable of the Good Samaritan - "This love is the particular praxic love that swells within a person at the sight of another person's unjustly inflicted suffering, driving its subject to eradicate that suffering for no other reason than that it exists, and precluding any excuse for not so doing" ("The Samaritan Church and the Principle of Mercy"). This is how we recognize Christ's preeminence and how God makes "peace by the blood of his cross."

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