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Fifthteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)



“But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

Well, most of us spent a lot of time justifying ourselves, that is, finding ways in which we can make ourselves look good. It’s our most natural impulse because we hate to feel caught or ashamed—and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan can easily make us all feel caught and ashamed.

We use pretexts, euphemisms, deflection, exaggeration—we use any number of strategies to justify ourselves. “Oh, I didn’t know you meant that for me!” Or, “Everyone in my place would do the very same thing.” Or, “It was the other person’s fault.” Or, “They got what they deserved.”

I imagine this scribe figured Jesus would tell him who he neighbor was in some safe, predictable way. The person next-door. The people of your town. All your friends. Nice Jewish people who stick together. These are all ways to think of the word “neighbor”—and they make fulfilling the commandment somewhat easier. We can all feel good loving our own.

So when Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan—the very opposite of the idea of “neighbor” for Jews of that day—he’s pushing the scribe, and pushing us, into new territory. What does that new territory look like? Jesus is saying that we must have compassion for every single human being, just as we expect to receive compassion ourselves. That any of us is no different than any others of us.

But Jesus pushing us even further. He is pushing us to try to grasp the idea of God’s compassion—how God looks upon any of us. Jesus is God’s compassion embodied, made flesh, made the same flesh as you and me, and made the same flesh of every single human being. Jesus shows that we are all God’s neighbors. Until my compassion is stretched to include everyone, I do not understand the God of Jesus, the God Jesus revealed to us.

The reading from Colosians seems like a hymn that early believers would sing about Jesus—that God has invested in Jesus every glory and grace, making Jesus the greatest of all creation. But this greatness of Jesus was not for Jesus to keep to himself. Rather, we ourselves have been made great in Jesus—covered with his glory, a glory that would cover every human being. God shows God’s love for all when he loves and glorifies his Son.

We keep thinking that God’s will is elusive, that God’s mind is inscrutable, that God’s law is inaccessible. Hardly. God’s law is right before us; God’s will surrounds us. We see God law in the struggles of the least of us, in the humiliation others are made to carry, in the people scorned and demonized: we see God’s law, and the face of Jesus, in everyone who calls out compassion from our hearts.

If we believe Jesus has not neglected us, then how can we fool ourselves into neglecting others? “Go and do likewise.”