Coordinator of Respect Life
Take a look at Monday morning’s Gospel reading and read between the lines.
To understand the metaphor, understand the Samaritans: bastard Jews – religiously and biologically. In 581, Babylonians moved into Samaria and intermarry with Jews there. You cannot do this if you want to keep the religion and the culture pure. By marrying their captors, the Samaritans “gentiled themselves,” at least in the eyes of a “good Jew.” In 535, at the end of the exilic period, the Jews come back to Judea and seek to build a Temple. The Samaritans offer to help. Jews say, “No thanks” (not after you married your captors)…so Samaritans build there own.
Now look at this morning’s reading: the Scribe who asks the question ‘who is my neighbor’ should know the answer but asks anyway (there’s one in every class). Jesus got the Scribe to put two things together that a good Jew cannot – Samaritan and neighbor. To the Scribe, the Samaritan is beyond the pale of God’s forgiveness. For Jesus, that just isn’t possible.
To the Jews listening to Jesus tell the story, the next expected category (after priest and deacon (Levite)), would be a Jewish layperson but Jesus gives this coveted spot to a Samaritan, who is moved with compassion.
The hearer of the story discovers that God’s love is limitless. To the Jew of Jesus’ time, love is limited – not everyone is my neighbor. If God’s love is limitless, so must yours be, Jesus tells the hearer. So must ours.
No one listening is surprised that the Priest and Levite do not touch the guy in the ditch. If either had stopped to help, they would become unclean and would need to go through all sorts of rituals for getting ‘unsuspended’ – they kept the law. For those listening, the point is not to help the one in the ditch, but in keeping the law.
But in keeping man’s law, they broke God’s law, which raises the question: is the law made for us, or are we made for the law?
A priest could not raise this question. Neither could a deacon. It was up to a previously rejected; ostracized, humiliated, last resort of a character to make this clear for those struggling to believe.
God takes the weak and makes them strong.
So where is the arrogance the title suggests? It’s mine. I am just arrogant enough, I said to a friend the other day, that I edit Luke’s Gospel when I read chapter ten. You see, I think the Samaritan said something to the man in the ditch. I think he bent down and whispered something that Luke forgot to write down.
It is the same whispering that compelled people into action last week when the shooting started. It was the same message that made strangers carry strangers, cover each other, and hold a lifeless body until help arrived.
“I do not wish to be saved without you.”
That is what the Samaritan says in my head as he bends down to care for the sick, dress the wounds, and lug him to safety.
“I do not wish to be saved without you.”
You matter to God, so you matter to me. No matter what you look like, what your DNA says about you, or how you identify yourself as a child of God. You matter. You are His and therefore you matter to me.
I do not wish to be saved without you.
That. Changes. Everything.
An anniversary passes this week that will likely be lost in the news of hurricanes and presidential tweets. With the start of school, open houses, meetings with teachers, and homework, today might just go unnoticed.
Since that Tuesday morning sixteen years ago the world has changed in so many ways. We are more alert, more aware, more afraid, and, with every passing day, more likely to forget how that day played out. We are different people than we were back then. We are older, wiser. We are fathers and mothers now, seeking ways to protect our children. The babies born that year are now well into high school. Millions of people born since that day have no memory of the Twin Towers or that remote field in Pennsylvania or the moment the Pentagon walls came down. Like so many sayings that come and go, “Let’s roll!” means very little to this my children’s generation.
But it’s important to remember. It is important to tell the story.
A few weeks after that terrible day, two of my sisters came to visit and we went to visit Ground Zero. The fires were still smoldering. Bodies were still being recovered. Guards were posted every few yards and facing outward towards the throngs of people who came to pray, or just to watch. There was a silence, a stillness, over the crowd. Enough time had passed that the flyers announcing the missing were weathered. But not enough time had passed to stop people from openly weeping in the streets.
As I stood there, I caught the eye of an officer with the NYPD. Without thinking, I said the first thing that popped into my head. It’s a bad habit of mine.
“How unbelievably hard it must be for you to stand there when so many of your brothers are still buried.”
I was almost immediately sorry I said it because I saw the pained look on his face. I had hit a nerve so raw, so near the surface, that I was sure he wanted to either cry or hit me. But as I saw his eyes go to the youth ministry logo on my jacket, the pained expression gave way to peace. He even smiled.
His answer haunts me still. He looked me in the eye and spoke without hesitation, almost as if he had planned his response: “I’m Catholic too – and there is a lot of death, a lot of evil here, so much…” he paused, “crucifixion.” Then he cocked his head in the direction of the graveyard behind him and added, “But there is resurrection too. So I’m standing by the tomb and I’m waiting.”
I remember the voice, the thick New York accent. I remember his eyes. I remember everything about that night.
The world is filled with evil, darkness, chaos, murder, violence, and war.
The world is also filled with light.
May you find the light this week. May any cross you face bring you to a tomb.
Because the tomb, the floods, the fires, the worry and the anxiety – all lead to emptiness. And, in the end, it is an emptiness that brings us face to face with life.
I get Thomas. I get why he needed to see the wounds. Like you, I struggle. I doubt. I wonder. I’ve put all my eggs in this basket, after all, and there are moments I look up and think, “This better be true.”
I think we all do. All honest people anyway.
We pray for the sick and they die anyway.
We pray for patience and the virtue still eludes us.
We pray for strength and courage and wisdom and still find ourselves weak and scared and dumb.
We pray for clarity of thought and still get lost in the minutia.
I get Thomas. And I take comfort in the fact that our church canonized the doubter and let the guy who denied be its first leader. Talk about human frailty.
But one of the things that has always fascinated me is that Thomas, for all his whining that he wouldn’t believe, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side…’ the Gospel writer never actually says Thomas touches Jesus.
It is the mere presence of the Risen Lord in front of Thomas that makes this honest disciple cry out.
And so it is with us. We don’t have to touch. We just have to be in the presence of Jesus.
And so, because of faith, we look at the sick and the lonely and the dying and we see the resurrection and good health that awaits us all.
Because of faith, we recognize the opportunities to be patient that are put before us by a Savior who invites us to be better than we are.
Because of faith, we find our strength and courage and wisdom in those sent to carry us, support us, and teach us (and maybe even challenge us).
Because of faith, we see the big picture. We know the end of the story. We cry on Friday and rejoice on Sunday and know that the winners write the history books.
Because of faith, we know that “the relationship is changed, not ended” and that those we love and lose remain with us and in us and all around us.
I get Thomas. And with him, I cry out: longingly, adamantly, fervently.
“My Lord and My God.”
And He cries right back, “Here I am.”
Thank God for Easter. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Photo: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio
The official prayer of The Leadership Institute has been promulgated by Bishop Frank Caggiano and will be distributed for the first time at the Institute’s launch on Wednesday, January 11, 2017.
A collaborative effort among theologians, diocesan leaders, and supporters of the Institute, the prayer asks for God to bless our studies, our leaders, and our shared work, all the while invoking the three main components of all that the Institute seeks to accomplish: encounter, formation, and discipleship.
Copies of the prayer can be downloaded here.
Together, let us pray for the success of the ministry we share:
God of Wisdom and Love,
You have called us to be missionary disciples of your Son,
and to use our gifts to build up His Body, the Church.
Empower us to follow the example of the twelve apostles
and to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.
May we Encounter You in all our studies,
May our Formation be guided by Your Holy Spirit,
And may the Discipleship in which we share transform us
So that our ministry may renew the world
One person at a time.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear some of the scribes and Pharisees demand of Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
Wouldn’t that be nice?
As violence begets more violence and the world seems to go indiscriminately mad around us, wouldn’t it be great to get a sign from God that everything was going to be okay and that if we really try, we can achieve peace?
And yet those signs are here. In the children who resolve differences without fists, in the parents who love their children without hitting them, in the neighbors who learn to get along, in the countries that settle disputes without declaring war. We ask for signs from God while we ignore the presence of God around us. Like the man waiting to be rescued from the flood, we miss the radio announcement, the boat, and the helicopter….you know the story.
Once upon a time, when Gandhi sought to enter a church, he was told he was not welcomed. “I’d be a Christian,” he was reported to have said, “If only the Christians acted like Christians.”
Perhaps this week we can find the signs of God around us. Perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to spread peace instead of violence, joy instead of fear, love instead of anger.
Because I am willing to bet, if you look around, God is here.
Waiting to be recognized.
I’ve been thinking about the Gospel reading of the Good Samaritan. It is one of my favorite parables and I used to love when it would come up in class when I was teaching. But as I reflect on the events of the last year or so, the parable has taken on new meaning for me as I wonder how that scenario would play out in today’s world.
Someone would probably have video taped the attack on the man as he traveled down the dangerous road and then they would have posted it online. Every talk show would be checking in with experts to discuss why the priest and the Levite did not stop to help the man in the ditch and how much culpability they shared in the man’s plight. The Samaritan would be hailed as a hero and his story would be made into a movie.
But others would ask: “Why couldn’t the man just get up on his own?” “Why do the priest and Levite get a pass?” “Why does the Samaritan get honored for doing what he ought to do?”
They would ask those question because they have never been in a ditch.
The reality is the man couldn’t get up. I imagine it might have been because of the beating he experienced at the hands of the robbers. But most people know it isn’t always a physical reason that lands you in a ditch. Once in a great while you experience something so powerful and painful that you simply cannot help yourself. Call it depression. Call it addiction. Call it a crisis. Call it whatever you want. It’s an abyss, a darkness, and it can envelop you.
How we respond to those in the ditch says an awful lot about where we are in our own journey. It says a lot about who we are as children of God.
The truth is we are always on a journey. We are, by our nature, unfinished. By the grace of God, we are always longing for more. We must be patient. With ourselves. With each other. We must, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “trust in the slow work of God.”
But being unfinished is not an excuse to ignore the need around us. Longing for more does not give us permission to pass by on the other side of the road.
Who around you sits in darkness this week? Who around needs a hand? Who among you lies helpless in a ditch?
And what do you plan to do about it?