There are invitations in today’s readings. We pray with the reality of God’s
command to love God and love our neighbor not as two separate laws. We do
not love enough, but that is not the real impact of these readings. We are
invited to let go of devotion to the laws of God and embrace the God of the
We can pray with the reality of our selectivity in the area of loving. We
do pass by on the other side of many different people and groups. We could
pray with the shame of that, but better it would be to pray with new desires
to love God humbly. This law of love is within us, but so is the law of selfish
and protective fear. We pray with the tensions caused by the two laws which
are not so far away, but close to heart and hand. We can pray as well for
the Christian spirit of welcoming and caring for the injured, homeless and
The Book of Deuteronomy comprises some history, a large number of laws for
every occasion, and some long speeches to God’s people by Moses. The laws
are set down so that the people will stay together in spirit, and in communal
and cultic life. By keeping these laws, they will experience their being
different from all other surrounding nations. They will be blest by God with
great prosperity and population growth. We hear a Moses- fireside chat in
today’s First Reading.
It is assumed that the people have not decided totally to live with faith
their relationship with the God of their Exodus. Their keeping of the laws
in the “book” would take faith, yet prove their faith. Moses reminds them
that all God is asking is their living from the laws written, not in the
“book,” or in some “books” far away, but in the “book” of their hearts. They
know already what are the loving and proper things to do, but they know also
the other laws inscribed within their human natures.
God does not enjoin laws unnatural to the people so as to cause new tensions,
but rather sets the tensions between those laws as the context for fidelity.
God does not cause the tensions; God invites the people, through the words
of Moses, to live well the law they know is holy.
Luke presents us with a wonderful story in today’s Gospel. A Jewish
lawyer knows the law well concerning what is the greatest of the commandments
in the law. Jesus knows them too and unites the two laws about loving
God and loving neighbor. Jesus announces that the new way is that one cannot
love God without loving God’s sisters and brothers, whom he calls “neighbors.”
So the lawyer wishing to trap Jesus, in fact, traps himself. His question
about who is his neighbor provokes a delightful, yet challenging, parable.
Now before we get too harsh on the priest and the Levite, notice please.
These two were observing their religious prescriptions about cultic purity.
They were loving God by keeping their laws and customs. The foreigner who
is outside the law, does not pass by on the opposite side, but responds to
the law of his heart. The word “opposite” here has two meanings then. The
real intent is to show that the law of love which Jesus purports is opposed
to the purely cultic strictures observed by the priest and Levite. There
is something new afoot and Jesus tells this parable to highlight his view
of just who are the members of the family of God.
If we are all religiously related to each other, then we have a responsibility
to do the acts of love towards them as the means of loving God and fulfilling
the First and greatest Commandment.
We live in a delightful racially-mixed neighborhood here in Omaha. This very
evening we attended the first meeting of the “Neighborhood Watch” group.
The first question was that of the lawyer in today’s Gospel, “Who exactly
constitutes our neighbor.” What are the exact boundaries of our neighborhood?
The answer we received from the Police Woman chairing the meeting was quite
exact, from 43rd to 45th and just here on Grant Street. Then we talked about
the comings and goings of those who rent. Are they neighbors only while they
are renting on these blocks?
Our house is second from the corner and we are closer to the people to the
east who by definition are boundaried out of our concern, than we are to
those far down towards 45th Street. All this is very interesting in the light
of the Gospel.
The “Good Samaritan” had his own Watch Group and while by custom he himself
was boundaried out, he crossed to the “opposite” side in the parable so that
the crossing of boundaries which was at the center of Jesus’ mission might
Christianity is a “Neighborhood Watch” relationship which goes beyond the
neighbor, to God. Loving God is expressed in cultic celebrations of course.
Those are not enough in this new and “opposite” New Way. The Law of Love
is written in our hearts, blest by the Spirit who incarnates that law in
our loving God and loving even those on the “opposite side.” Our fears, injuries,
prejudices and selfishness can keep us associated with God in the comfort
of the church pew and distant from Jesus’ poor, injured, beaten and even
the unborn. This parable is to catch our attention. We know very well who
is our neighbor; we would rather be selective about who moves in and who
has to move out so our boundaries create more comfort.
As with the people of Moses’ time, we people of Jesus’ time are to live differently,
opposite to the lawless loveless ways of these present days.
How happy they who dwell in your house! For ever they are praising
you.” Ps. 84