ENTERTAING ANGELS – RE-THINKING THE GOOD SAMARITAN

We come again to Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, acknowledging it applies to far more than whether we offer a handout to a beggar on the street. As far as that is concerned, we know we can’t always, but sometimes, we must.  As Pope Francis reminds us, charity must be without judgment, without lectures or reprimands but a surrender to the Holy Spirit—unqualified as it may be quantified.  But we mustn’t settle with only one application of this Gospel.  Our times call for expansion of our faith as it applies to all aspects of our lives.

Some say politics and religion must never interact, but the parable of the Good Samaritan insists we attend to our current immigration crisis–the refugee camps and holding cells for immigrants from Central America and elsewhere.   Witness’ statements are alarmingly conflicted. Some literally weep over the suffering—people in confinement without access to toilets and shower facilities– and others report that all is well, that everyone is treated humanely.  We don’t know truly who to believe. But our faith insists we attend to the side of those who suffer and not look the other way.

Some say charity has no place in government. Charity belongs to the realm of churches synagogues, temples and mosques.  But wait!  We believe in a government by the people for the people, do we not?  If our government does not respond to people in crisis in ways we believe are good, then who is our government representing?

Even if you believe that every undocumented immigrant must return to his or her own country—a stance that the United States Catholic Bishops insist is not fair or compassionate because of the many hostile situations most of the immigrants are fleeing—the very essence of human kindness insists that we treat fellow human beings with dignity, provide them with at least the most basic comforts while we assess their situations before sending them back to their countries of origin.

Furthermore, charity requires we analyze our government and our American Corporation involvement in these countries to see where we help or hinder the local populations. These are just some of the applications the Good Samaritan Parable insists we consider.  Let’s take a brief look at human history and see what insights our pasts offer. 

Kindness to strangers has always been an essentially human value. Indeed, we find it in evidence in ancient documents that predate the Bible.  As the civilizations of Samaria, Mesopotamia and Egypt were being cultivated, most of humanity lived as foragers and wandering nomads with herds of sheep and goats. When they came upon the outskirts of cites, it was customary for citizens to offer them food and rest before they moved onward.  Our Jewish ancestors insisted this practice was divinely inspired and made it an outright obligation. Consider these examples:

  1. Abraham and the Three visitors. Without hesitation, Abram asks his wife Sarai to make a meal. Had they not, the promise of Covenant, children and future would not have cone to them.
  2. Esau forgives and welcomes back his brother Jacob / now named Israel  with Israel’s wives, children, other relatives and many servants and flocks even though Israel had been gone over 14 years.
  3. Joseph, advisor to Pharaoh welcomes All 11 brothers, father and all the Israelites to Egypt when Canaan was plagued with drought and famine.
  4. Moses guides the people to welcome aliens in their midst for the people were once aliens themselves.

In the Greek and Roman empires, hospitality to strangers was a lawful and religious act.  They believed any of the gods or goddesses could be a beggar in disguise.  Christianity affirmed that attributing the invitation to kindness as consorting with angels.  We read this in Chapter 13 of  the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.”

Another important aspect of the Good Samaritan Parable is the context of religious fundamentalism, rigidity and scrupulosity in living out the faith. We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus highlights the people unresponsive to the robbers’ victim are religious clerics. Here is an alarming example of legalism trumping a deeper, more universal humanity.  We all know the priest and Levite are following “the letter of the law,”  they cannot be contaminated by the victim’s blood nor by someone who may a member of their clan or tribe if they are to serve at worship at the temple or synagogue. Jesus’ parable questions such allegiance.

We must admit that Catholicism has also had  a reputation, in our past and somewhat in our present, for rigidity in practice and scrupulosity in spirit; in brief:  Legalism. The Good Samaritan Parable reminds us that people can avoid compassion, neglect charity as much BECAUSE of, if not despite our religion.

In the decades prior to Vatican II,  there’s a story of a woman who neglected her toddler – keeping him alone at home in playpen– so she could get to church and not incur mortal sin. Today she would be arrested.  I also know of a band of brothers who cheated a brother out of shares in their business justifying themselves because he no longer was a practicing Catholic.  Hypocrisy for sure.

We used to not be able to attend weddings in Protestant churches or go to church or synagogue with people of other faiths, but today, Holy Spirit has won out just as Jesus broke through the rigidity of religious practices of his time.  Vatican II institutionalized what Catholics sensed and recognized long before, that God is all in all, and that we need to respect faith in all its many forms within and among our families’ relatives in the wider neighborhoods. Such rigidity in rules were always meant to be broken and come of age.

Still, rigidity and legalisms can still hold sway even in our times. There are those who continue to  come to confession, saying, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.  I missed mass on Sunday, but I was terribly sick with flu.”   Confessors assure them that God cares about their health and wellbeing and they made the right decision not to attend–for themselves and for the rest of us.  What makes people still so overly concerned with the Church’s  rules and guidelines?  Must they live in fear of mortal of a wrathful, vengeful God?  That is not the God of Jesus Christ.

A more common question I get concerns whether Catholics should attend a wedding if their children or relatives are marrying outside the church – out in a field or by a swimming pool.  In more serious and much more complicated situations they ask the same about LGBTQ  relatives and friends. Here we must remember the many, many stories of Jesus in the homes of tax collectors and people of ill repute. He never insists that they follow him , but rather gets to know them, affirm their God-given dignity, their loving and life-affirming qualities, always highlighting the good He saw in them at the same time He invites them to a relationship. A Good Samaritan would always celebrate our common humanity by putting love over judgment.  Should you go to these weddings, these homes?  Our answer is irrefutable YES!  Remember:  God says, “judgment is mine,”  and Jesus said many times in many ways, “ be merciful just as your father is also merciful.”

Now that we have reflected on the Word, we are all invited to the Eucharistic table. I assure you, on behalf of Jesus and His Church, I am not going to ask you for your green cards, your passports, your politics or anything else other than your “Amen,” i.e. your assent that Christ is with us, in us, in me and you and all, at work in us, conforming us with patience and unconditional love to break through the barriers of yes,  even law and order,  to acknowledge our common humanity–a humanity which He assumed fully and completely for our sake—to make Good Samaritans of us all.  

FOR SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR TODAY, THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, GO TO: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071419.cfm

Keeping Us God-centered – a Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reading 1:IS 66:10-14C Responsorial Psalm   PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 Reading 2  GAL 6:14-18 Gospel   LK 10:1-12, 17-20 

Jesus said Satan was being conquered by the Gospel. How did that happen then?  How does it happen now?  Are we still applying the Gospel to advance the good and limit if not eradicate the bad by the grace of God?

There are many ways to live and many different foundations of faith to stand on.  Christianity and Judaism are rooted in worship (which teaches us humility, reverence and awe in God’s presence). Faith assures us that God willingly shares a divine spark and spirit with every member of the human race.  Faith invites us to see each other differently than  the world views us—i.e., as consumers, numbers, quota or constituencies.  

With many abandoning organized religions these days, the most popular “alternate religion” is humanism, which, although it denies God and the need for worship, continues to reverence the human being. As it abandons the Jewish and Christian belief in the Divine Spark, the soul in every person, humanism maintains the importance of people as individuals.  It champions “free will” not as a God-given right but a right, nonetheless.  It values “liberty” while softening its tendency to selfishness by borrowing the biblical ideal of unity among peoples for the common good. 

Yes, Humanism promotes tolerance and good will, respect for differences but without the profound Eucharistic dimensions of true acceptance.  Humanism has difficulty with Jesus’ insistence on forgiveness and reconciliation rooted in the Jewish Covenant.  Humanism promotes a vision of the future in which everyone gets along but that lacks the profundity of the Biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth guided by cooperation with a loving God.  

Why are these distinctions important?  Because without God there is no true humanity.  Without God there is no true humility;  no deference to a wisdom and  love greater than our own.  Humility rooted in submission to God acknowledges human weakness, limitations, tendency to selfishness –what we call “sin”—without which we see ourselves as little gods, tribal leaders, kings and queens  or their modern counterparts, presidents and prime ministers of our own design. The Bible does say, at times,  “You have made us little less than a God,” but the emphasis is on “less than.” 

 In contrast, humanism trusts not in the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit but in a trinity of its own inventions—commerce, science and technology.  It is time we realize that, more and more,  humanism surrenders human dignity to these newly created gods making “Progress” the greatest good.  If not kept in check, progress will advance at the expense of all religions and even humanist values.  

Saint Paul insisted on humility as a faith foundation, an essential ingredient in true goodness when he wrote: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Covenant with Israel insisted “”Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,  sing praise to your name!”

And Jesus saw evil being conquered through the efforts of 72 disciples (both Jews and Gentiles at this juncture) participating in His Gift of the Holy Spirit when he said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. … Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,  but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  i.e. God is at work through you.  That is the faith that will bring you to eternal life.  Life is not about us, but God in all.  We view ourselves as “masters of the universe” at great peril.

Jesus’ commandments to the 72 disciples emphasized God, not humanism, not commerce, nor science.  Jesus sent the 72 abroad to experience God through deference to the kindness of strangers, requiring disciples to see every individual and family as members of God’s family.  Jesus’s instructed them to “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals”  Why?  He did not want them to find their confidence in material things but in the Spirit alive in them.  Jesus said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” Notice the “payment” is not gold or riches or social advancement but a sustaining meal; meals in which people truly listen to one another, attend to each one’s feelings and share questions that evoke conversation of values, of faith, of rights and wrongs.  And, since no one is always “right,” but all are sometimes wrong, with forgiveness and hope.   Today’s counterpart to the 72’s experience would be meals without cell phones and private texts, meals without tv, computers or other distractions, meals where monetary concerns are put aside.

Today’s Scriptures offer lessons that teach us how to engage in the modern age.  We must be consistent in posing critical questions to our neighbors, employers, politicians, doctors and heads of corporations and technological conglomerates:

“Who will benefit from these business decisions, from these economic standards, these political views and who will be left out? Will these new technologies advance the health and wellbeing of all or a select few?  Who may be harmed by these decisions and advances?  Do we want to repeat the sins of the past or learn from them instead?

Commerce, science and technology offer amazing possibilities but without God, without you and me and other people of faith, they have no motivation to value a common humanity over a privileged humanity;  no value system to nurture mother earth for the common good.  Instead they will nurture advancement for its own sake, over and above everything and everyone.

Building on the Jewish prophets, Jesus has empowered us to keep commerce, science and technology in check. We must align ourselves with the 72 disciples as we approach the Eucharistic table today.  We must ask the Lord to strengthen our faith -filled convictions, to expand our reverence for God, for all God’s people and God’s good earth.  If  we do not leave this church today with that kind of reverence, what will become of our world? To which Trinity will we have allegiance?  Whose people will we truly be?