15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The center of this Sunday’s liturgy of the word is occupied by the famous parable of the “Good Samaritan”, that reminds us of that which is essential in Christian life: merciful love in favor of others. The disciple of Jesus is called to “become neighbor” to others through an efficacious love – in actions and words -, realized with intelligence and passion. Mercy makes up the heart of the gospel and is the principle that configures and inspires all of the believer’s praxis.
The first reading (Dt 30,10-14) is the conclusion of the discourses that make up the central part of the book of Deuteronomy. Knowledge of the word of God that demands listening, reflection, obedience and compromise to put it into practice, is not an unreachable or too arduous task for man and woman. Rightly, the text says: “is not too hard for you, neither is it far off” (v. 11). It is not something from another world, “it is not in heaven” far from the habitual dwelling of humans (v. 12); nor is it so exotic that it would be necessary to look for it “beyond the sea” (v. 13). The word of God is close and realizable. After the Lord has manifested his will in the form of mandates of the covenant, the word now is not inaccessible to the Israelite: it can be recited by mouth, he or she can retain it and reflect upon it with the mind and heart. Only waiting for it to be converted into life and into the illuminating principle for all of existence: “But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (v. 14).
The second reading (Col 1,15-20) is a hymn of liturgical origin with which the letter to the Colossians opens. The text can be divided into two great Christological sections: the first celebrates Christ in relationship with creation (vv. 15-17); the second places him in the mystery of redemption (vv. 18-20). In the first section, in the light of biblical wisdom (cf. Prov 8,22-30), Christ is affirmed as the root, the supreme center of unity and of harmony and of cohesion of all of creation. The primacy of Christ is sung, he that is the “image”, the real icon of the Father, in that he is mediator in the work of creation, and “first born” of all creatures, due to his unique and eternal filiation, before the creation of the world. In the second section, the dignity of Christ is proclaimed, in Christ dwells the “fullness of divinity”. His primacy in the Church is affirmed, of which he is “head” and “first born”, in the sense of anteriority and supremacy. In him all of the power and greatness of God has been manifested. For this reason, the entire universe is reconciled with God through him and is brought to peace by the blood of the cross.
The gospel (Lk 10,25-37) narrates the encounter between Jesus and a scribe interested in knowing what is necessary to do to obtain eternal life (v. 25). Jesus refers him to that which is written in the law, and the scribe understands that Jesus refers to the commandment of love of God and of neighbor (vv. 26-27). In the end, Jesus invites him to convert that word into concrete action: “You have answered right; do this and you will live” (v. 28).
In a second moment of the dialogue of the scribe, preoccupied by a question of casuistry that had great importance among the rabbis, asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). After much discussion, the scribes always come to the same conclusion: one’s neighbor is a member of the covenant, every member of the people of God (Ex 20,16-17; 21,14.18.35; Lev 19,13-18). The scribe’s question reveals the Jewish mentality of Jesus’ time, made up of restrictions and barriers above all, the juridical definition of whom ought to be loved.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is entirely contrary to this. Jesus distances himself from legalistic and theoretical discussions and presents a human case. He does not pretend to resolve the juridical problem that the scribe poses, but rather present the question in a totally distinct way. After telling the parable, the fundamental question for Jesus is: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36). In relation to the initial preoccupation of the scribe the jump of quality is evident. Jesus invites to overcome all evasive and theoretical speculation about the content that was necessary to give the word “neighbor”. Asking ourselves who is our neighbor, only then would we come to establish differences between persons and come up with reasons for not compromising ourselves in a positive sense for others. For Jesus, the notion of “neighbor” is not subject to a juridical definition, but rather to lived merciful love that concretely, does not know borders.
In the parable, Jesus describes in what consists and how to actuate mercy. The Samaritan simply acted, he drew close to the man left on the road and assisted him promptly with his help. It does not tell us what reflections he made or with which ultimate finality he came to realize this gesture. Simply, it says that he acts moved with compassion. For Jesus “to become neighbor” means to draw near, to establish a relationship with “the other” that is in need or is an unjust victim, and to act mercifully, that is, to allow oneself to be touched by the pain and misery of others.
The parable proposes that which we would call “three steps” to realize merciful love.
(a) To see. – The Samaritan does not “make a detour” as the professionals of religion that passed before him. For the Samaritan, the fact of finding a man that needed him was decisive, one that had been victim of a human evil and suffered thrown down on the road, beyond differences of race, religion or nationality. He did not pass by at a distance in an unconscious manner. He saw him, drew close and stopped.
(b) Experience of mercy. – The phrase “had compassion” of the 33rd verse, translates the Greek verb splangnizomai that indicates the internal commotion of one’s insides. The Samaritan interiorized in his insides the suffering of the other, he made it part of him and converted it into the primary principle of action. It is authentic compassion, the cum-patire, the suffering – with. Before action, compassion has to be an interior action, an inspiring and unifying principle of all that we do and say.
(c) Efficacious action. – The Samaritan of the parable incarnates that which means to love concretely and in an efficacious way to the end. His love does not know limits, nor barriers, nor borders or any type. It is a love of similar compassion that God has manifested in Christ. He takes on this compassion in a practical way in favor of the man that is thrown down on the road. The efficacious love of the Samaritan is above all a fundamental attitude before the suffering of the other, in virtue of which he reacted to eradicate the suffering, only for the reason that such suffering exists and with the conviction that, in that reaction before the suffering of another, is played out, without a way out, one’s own existence. The experience of compassion, in effect, realizes the fundamental undertaking for the Kingdom, thus acting in this way; we behave as God and in God’s way. It is the only way to reach one-day full communion with him (“heir of eternal life”).