Homily – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This past week as Robert and I were looking for a movie “to escape” the news that is far from “good” these days; we came upon the older film, Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks, and to my mind, watching him totally immerse himself in a role is always a good use of two hours.

It had been a while since we had seen this one and I had forgotten what a really wonderful film it is.  Most of us who have seen it always remember the catchy line, “Mama always says, “Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going get.”  (Mama, you’ll remember was played by Sally Field, another fine actor).

This week Jesus asks us to think about and really take into our hearts, the question, “Who is my neighbor?” as he tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  Forrest Gump discovered the “Good Samaritan” in the person of Jenny, a childhood companion, who became a life-long friend, supporting him throughout her own troubled life, due to being sexually abused by her father as a child.

Jenny struggled throughout her life with abusive sexual encounters, drugs, and attempts at suicide as she tried to make sense of the abuse heaped on her, only to realize at the end of her relatively young life that she had been steadfastly loved from a young age by her friend, Forrest who had put up with his own abuse for not being born with a high I.Q.

I chose to remind us today of Forrest Gump because it struck me that his steadfast love for Jenny, no matter what she did or how she lived her life was akin to how our God loves each of us, in an over-the-top way, no matter what we have done during our lives.

Why our Church or any other Christian church, in the supposed memory of Jesus of Nazareth would ever teach his followers that “if you have done a lot of bad things during your life, then, when you die, you’re going to hell,” I simply can’t understand!  Such teaching flies in the face of the story of the Good Samaritan told by Jesus today.

In order for us to totally grasp the full intent of this story, we need to remember who the Samaritan people of Jesus’ time were.  During their exile to a foreign land, not all of the Israelites were taken.  Those that were not led into exile, living around Samaria began to intermarry and become lax in their Jewish faith—customs and beliefs.

When those in exile returned, they began looking down on their fallen away sisters and brothers and from that time on until Jesus entered the picture, Samaritans became the group to look down on, certainly not the ones they would name in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who is your neighbor?”

And as we know from our study of Scripture, Jesus was always one to turn things on their heads.  If the Samaritan was the only one who would show compassion to the traveler who had fell in with robbers, then what does that say about the long-held belief, lived out in the lives of the Israelites, that the Samaritans are ones to shun?

One theme that Jesus continually deals with throughout his short adult life of teaching and preaching and one that is significant in the story of the Good Samaritan is that of differentiating between the letter and the heart of the law.  The priest and the Levite who saw the suffering person and walked out of their way not to engage and connect with the suffering, were following the letter of the law—“such an encounter would make me unclean,” might have been part of their thinking or, it may have been the Sabbath, when no physical work was allowed, or we may have given the excuse when called on to help someone on the “other side of the road,” “across town” or anywhere else for that matter, that, “I don’t have time today, someone else will help, or, I don’t know them”–all excuses that I have used, sadly.

Jesus calls us to the heart of the law—to compassion.  Sometimes we truly can’t help, but “having compassion for,” “being concerned about,” another suffering person is the very least that is expected of us.  Also, by the fact that no nationality, or culture, or gender or belief system is mentioned regarding “the traveler” in Jesus’ story; we can be sure that Jesus means that there would be no limits, no boundaries around who we are required to help! Our concern can’t simply be about, “my kind, my people, my family—but about anyone and everyone who asks, even if all we can offer is our “troubled heart” in that we can’t do more.

I was very pleased and proud of an action that the All Are One board took this past week, in our name, in giving $500 to Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas where two Rochester, MN Franciscan Sisters, Mary Kay and Arnold work bringing compassion and support of all kinds to these needy and suffering in our midst.

I am reading a book now in preparation for a partial retreat I will be making with the Midwest Group of Women Priests in early August. As we think of so many traveling hundreds of miles, trying to escape unbearable living conditions south of our border, there are similarities to be found in the book by Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian.  He is basically dealing with the issue of “heart versus law.”

Many today who are leaving denominational churches behind are doing so because they are hungering for something authentic, something real, that speaks to the very best within them—gets to the heart of the matter, because friends, unless something in this day and age can engage one’s heart, giving true purpose to what every day brings, many people just don’t want to make the effort—keeping the law for law’s sake is basically quite boring and useless to people—all of us who are hard-wired to love.

The people that McLaren talks with express the fact that they want to hear the message of Jesus in the churches they attend and they don’t–it is all about “obeying, praying, in the loosest sense of the word, and paying.”

Jesus hones in even closer in his message of the “heart versus the letter” of the law.  In his questioning of the lawyer, in today’s gospel, Jesus asks him to basically spell out the law—how does he interpret it? The lawyer answers correctly—“You must love the Most High God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

It is at this point that Jesus clarifies the law in the telling of the story of the Good Samaritan; basically that it is no good to say that we “love God” and “fail to love our neighbor,” whomever she or he may be.

The message today from our brother Jesus is confirmed in the other readings as well.  Moses in the first reading from Deuteronomy reminds the people that the law is already in their mouths and in their hearts—that it isn’t a hard law to keep, but that they will always have to remember to let their “hearts” lead.  God made each one of us already hard-wired, as I said above, this way—with love, with compassion.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians reminds us that Christ, now, in his Spirit, “holds all things in unity,” helping us to do our best.  We, each of us have to make suffering, any suffering in our world—personal.  What if this was happening to my family—my child, to my sister or brother, or husband or wife—how would I respond then?

The Scriptures are clear friends—there is no way that we can get this one wrong.  It reminds me of an email I received recently with a new hymn by composer, David Haas, entitled, “Christ, You Spoke to Us of Children.”  As the hymn begins in rather somber tones, an image of a child and an adult looking through a chained-link fence began to appear in the background and ever so slowly, as the hymn continued, the image grew and by the end, a Madonna and Child were clearly present.

Today’s Scriptures, friends, as every week, call us to never ignore suffering of any kind, because our God, in Jesus, who loves each of us so mightily, lives in that suffering! Amen? Amen!