Today we hear what is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus in the story of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. And we’ve probably all heard someone preach ad nauseam about this passage and how we are to show charity to all those around us. That is very true, and I will not deny that some of my homily today will reflect that. However, I would like us to look deeper and see how we begin to live out that charity because we have first received it.
Our Gospel passage opens with a lawyer or a scholar of the Jewish law testing Jesus due to His strange teachings. This scholar of the law tests Jesus to see how well Jesus knows the law, though the man is unaware that he speaks with the one who spoke to Moses and handed that law on to the Israelites. When asked what it takes for one to inherit eternal life, our Lord presents the two central commandments of the law: love of God and love of neighbor. It is the lawyer’s question of who is one’s neighbor that Jesus presents this story of the half-dead traveller, the priest and Levite who avoid him, and the Samaritan who comes to his aid.
The Church Fathers, the great theologians and biblical scholars of the early centuries, see more going on in this story than the most obvious connection. They see this parable as representing the story of the salvation of humanity. The traveller is man who loses paradise and is nearly left dead by his sins. The priest represents the old Mosaic law which, though it was given by God, was not capable of healing humanity’s wounds of sin, and so he passes along, unable to help. The Levite, who represents the prophets, is also incapable of assisting, and so passes on.
If the law and the prophets are not able to aid us in themselves, then who or what can do this? It is the one who is described magnificently in our second reading: Christ Jesus, the image of the invisible God. Jesus is the good Samaritan who comes and heals the traveller - fallen humanity - from his abundance. Jesus calls Himself a Samaritan because He is different from the Jews, though He is born among them. He is different because of His divinity, so wonderfully described by Saint Paul: the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; the one who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead through His resurrection; the one who is the head of His mystical body, which is the Church; the one through whom all are reconciled via the blood of the cross, so that by His wounds we are healed.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is more than just a nice morality tale to make us love our neighbor, as if Mr. Rogers were the Messiah. This parable is a reminder to us of that charity which we have received from God Almighty, who came among us so as to be our reconciliation with the Father, so as to be the Lamb by whose blood our sins are taken away. Yet the action of reconciliation that is the Cross is not something that merely happened in the past and is something we reflect on in loving memory; it is the way by which Jesus offers the complete observance of the Two Commandments: loving God by being obedient even unto death, death by a cross, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, by offering Himself as the spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
And where do we find all of this presented to us not like a photograph, but as the real event offered once more for our benefit? We find this in the Mass, the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Cross for our adoration, our praise, our glory, and our benefit. As the saying goes, charity begins at home. Every time we come before the altar, we are present at that most seminal act of love God has given us. Every time we enter into the Mass, we are joined with the whole Church - past, present, and to come - to worship at the one true altar and to offer the one perfect sacrifice for our salvation. The Mass is our reminder of the charity we have received from God, the charity that we should, in turn, give to our neighbors, no matter who they are.
My hope as I begin to come into my own here is to make the liturgy echo this far more for each one of us every time we gather at the altar. If we do not get the Mass right, how will we do with the rest of our faith? An old phrase that has passed down through theologians is that the law of prayer animates the law of belief which in turn animates the law of living: as we pray, so we believe, so we do. My vision is to make our celebration of the liturgy as prayerful and conducive to our exercise of the faith as possible. That will involve some changes or differences, some of which you have probably already noticed, some of which will be discussed and presented so as to offer an opportunity for us to learn and appreciate better that which has been given to us by Christ Himself and maintained by the Church up to our own days.
Let us seek, first of all, to make the Mass more a prayer than an act of attendance. To be engaged in the liturgy is not merely to make eternal motions or sounds but to pour forth the desires and needs of the heart and soul towards the only one who can truly satisfy them. The Mass is not a television show which does all the work for us; it is a sacred action in which we have our part just as God has His own part, and we can only be fruitful in our participation at the Mass if we take up our part with joy. Let us also desire to glorify God as best as we can, mindful that it is our first duty as Christians. Only in showing God the glory, the honor, and the love that is due Him can we more clearly realize the glory, the honor, and the love He has for each one of us, so much so that He desires us to share eternal life with Him. Then, once we have a deeper appreciation of the divine love can we go forth and share that same love with all whom we meet, so that others may be drawn to this font of grace and salvation and be as satisfied as we are meant to be. Let us pray that this may be accomplished by us, so that we may each be made worthy to inherit eternal life.