God’s revealed word, from the first chapters of the Bible and continuing to the Christian scriptures, presents an ongoing reflection on the questions: Who is my neighbor? and, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” These timeless questions upon which hinge the entire Judeo-Christian ethic, have become more and more relevant in the face of the daily lip-service given by politicians whose hearts are far from the authentic gospel. Their thin veneer of evangelical piety is easily replaced by a narcissistic nationalism and xenophobic fear of ‘the other’ under the pretext of protecting one’s ‘national sovereignty.’ Who would have ever thought that national sovereignty would be threatened by defenseless and sick children, separated from their parents and caged worse than animals? This is quite simply, a crime that cries to heaven for vengeance.
It is precisely to tragic and senseless situations like this that the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ tethers us back to the heart and center of what it means to be an authentic follower of the Lord.
Our Gospel passage today is taken from the Gospel of Luke. Biblical scholars remind us that each of the gospel writers present a facet or perspective on the good news of Christ, filtered through their own experience. For some providential reason, Luke focuses his recollections on the poor and the disenfranchised of his society. Some call Luke’s gospel, the gospel of women because of their important place in his narrative. Luke presents unique recollections that speak of the Lord’s unwavering and unfailing mercy to the prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery and the thief that tradition calls ‘good,’ hanging next to the crucified savior and the first to be gifted with paradise.
In today’s passage we hear the familiar story of the good Samaritan. The story neatly illustrates the profound teaching of the Lord when asked what is necessary to gain eternal life. Jesus asks his questioner, “What is written in the law?” He responds by summarizing the entire teaching of the law and prophets in the foundational dual commandment: to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To which the master replies, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live."
My friends, how easy it is for us at times to hide behind the multiplicity of excuses that keep us from simply living the message of the Christ. So often we miss the ‘forest for the trees’ in our convoluted attempts to obsessively keep what we perceive to be the orthodox ‘letter of the law’ and in the end so easily slip into living lives of cheap grace.
To the observant Jew, the Samaritan was considered a heretic. Yet, it was only this Samaritan whose heart was filled with compassion who stopped and tended to the needs of the poor, beaten traveler who had been left to die. Not the righteous priest, not the law-obsessed Levite, but the outcast Samaritan who saw the face of the divine in that poor and broken traveler, left for dead along the road.
There is no question that in these latter days in our own country there is a profound need for a reordering of our values and priorities. As Christians, we are called to be as courageous as the Samaritan to witness to the face of the divine that abounds in all God’s children, regardless of borders. The authenticity of the gospel message calls us to unmask the hypocrisy that masquerades as cheap grace and to be willing to embrace all God’s children as our neighbor in Christ.