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I’m a bit frustrated today. I had spent a considerable amount of time working on my homily and had finished it Thursday Afternoon. And then in light of the assassination of 5 police officers in Dallas Texas, the shooting of 7 other police officers and 2 other civilians, I didn’t feel my homily for this Sunday was appropriate. So I’m frustrated... angry.
Not that I had to pull other words together - but the reason why I had to. This wasn’t some natural tragedy like, God Forbid, another Super Storm Sandy - or massive earthquake - resulting in massive devastation, and injuries and deaths to innocent people - which would also demand attention. This is, once again, the manifestation of true diabolical evil - the second time in less than a month - that has caught our collective attentions. A few weeks ago it was 50 individuals who were simply out for a night at a club who were gunned down by an Islamic Terrorist in Orlando. This week, these police officers were fulfilling their sacred oath - to protect and serve - at a rally which wasn’t exactly pro-Police. It was a rally, where people gathered to express their outrage over the deaths of black individuals in police-related shootings - most recently in Minnesota and Louisiana.
Like I said, from this pulpit just two weeks ago - we as a nation need to get back to basics - first as human beings to remember how to simply be empathetic, compassionate, caring to people who are hurt and suffering losses - rather than immediately jumping to facebook groups and twitter posts -retweeting or "liking" whatever angry statement most closely captures my agenda and ratcheting the rhetoric up even more with outrageous responses, more debates with those on the other side - while in the process forgetting those who’ve died, those who are mourning, those who are in pain. It’s human to be empathetic to people in pain. And as Christians, we’re called to a lot more than simply that call to empathy and compassion.
This latest escalation has me even more troubled. Because it’s becoming more obvious that we’re not only forgetting the basics of humanity and Christianity - we’re seeing citizens turning on one another in a way that some are comparing to the civil unrest that happened around the nation in the 1960's - but I’ve never seen or experienced in my lifetime.
That is what it is that is so worrisome. That there is this general distrust, dislike for
"others." That other who we label as"those" people who are blank - and fill in the blank by race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Which is happening on all sides of every issue by the way. That distrust, dislike is turning to hatred, to evil in our words, our thoughts, and in sadly some dramatic ways like the horrific actions we’ve seen, where those we look to for protection and keeping order have been made out to be the bad guys, are literally assassinated on television. EVEN THAT has not been enough to cause everyone to stop in their tracks and do some soul-searching.
That’s the devil at his finest - causing division, stroking fears by our constantly looking at "the other" as the problem, the blame, the cause of our problems. The devil not unique or creative... just an honest look in history we can see similar things that triggered horrific movements where on the other side of them, humanity promised "never again" to allow those things to happen.
Yet here we stand. Another crossroads as society.
All of these realities are causing widespread fear, anger, tension. People seem more unsettled, more unsure - which if we’re not careful, can cause any one of us to make some bad decisions moving forward that will only further isolate and divide us as we continue to look at one another as an "other".
God’s word today - as it always does - demonstrates how eternal, universal it really is. Here Jesus’ encounter with a scholar some 2,000 years ago can speak right to our experience, right to our situation. This passage is simply referred to as "the Good Samaritan." Most of us Christians, on hearing the title recall pretty instantly the main outline, the cliffs notes version of the story: Jewish guy gets robbed, beaten up and left on the road. Three different Jewish religious leaders see the guy and step over him... ignore him. A Samaritan guy sees him, physically takes care of him, then takes him to an inn and pays them to attend to the guy and promises on his way back, if the innkeeper spends more to take care of him he’ll pay for it.
For the most part, we look at this as Jesus talking about radical generosity and calling us his followers to imitate that. And that’s true to a point. But it kind of misses an even deeper point that Jesus was making.
Just a quick historical context to explain that. We often hear that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along... even though for the most part, Samaritans were Jewish. You might describe Jews and Samaritans as "cousins" - who like many families, had a history of fighting. In their case, it went on for almost a thousand years! On everything from how they worshipped, their relationships with pagan people (Jews forbid any marriage outside of Judaism; Samaritans had inter-faith marriages, hence Jews saw them as "unclean") So there was long hostility brewing that got worse the 100 years before Jesus was born. At that point, it’s a toss up if the Jews hated the Romans, who had conquered their territory and basically occupied them, more than the Samaritans. And that was true on the other side. Samaritans despised the Jews for their looking down on them, for treating them unfairly. Jewish leaders had destroyed Samaritan cities, their capitol, some of their important sites. Samaritans would attack Jews enroute to Jerusalem on feast days. It was so bad, the hatred, the animosity was so deep that not only didn’t they have anything to do with each other. They avoided each other at all costs. Jews would go through the much more difficult, challenging task of crossing the River Jordan to avoid walking through a Samaritan town in their travels. Calling someone a Samaritan was on the same level as saying they were possessed.
So that’s how hated they were. That’s how deep the bitterness was. So when Jesus is asked by this Jewish scholar, who has already demonstrated an ability to do the basics that were expected (following the commandments) - What do I have to do - how do I achieve eternal Life? And Jesus responds to this Jewish audience by sharing this story of radical generosity being offered by a Samaritan - the epitome of "the other" to this man a Jew (after the Jew was ignored by his fellow Jews), he is calling us not simply to radical generosity, but radical Love - a Love that extends to our enemies. And not love in simply a ho hum, begrudging, generalized, let’s add it to the list of petitions "Pray for my enemies" - but a true love that demands much more. A love that transforms the other... into brother (and sister).
A truly personal commitment to reach out; to care - without counting the cost; doing so not for notoriety or accolades (notice the Samaritan is nameless... we simply know him to be "Good") This gospel of radical Generosity, radical Love, radical Mercy - in answer to the question "What must I do" attaches to us the same responsibility.... the same demands.
While our hearts and minds are deeply troubled and thinking at these global, societal
Yet Christ calls us to do just the opposite... Not to let that darkness intimidate, defeat or frighten us. And instead to begin to take this challenge of the Good Samaritan on a more local, more personal level. To think of the neighbor who because they played their music too loud and you called the cops on them you have never spoken to again. The friend who no longer fits in that category over whatever fight it was that ended that - who you learned just got horrendous news about their health. The co-worker who deep inside you’ve allowed envy and jealousy to color your image of them into something that’s probably not accurate at all. The relative - that son, that daughter, that parent -you haven’t spoken to in months, years because of that hurt, that pain, that wound that hasn’t been healed or even acknowledged at this point.
When we summon those types of examples, when the feelings and emotions that are attached to them come to mind and we supplant us and "them" into this story, the reality of just how difficult Christianity really is becomes apparent once again. But Jesus doesn’t present this to us to make us feel badly about whatever brokenness we have in our life; nor to make us feel defeated as we think "there’s no way I can love like that to whoever it is that comes to mind as we fill in the blank..." He wants us to realize how freely, selflessly, completely he loves us. When we’ve sinned, when we’ve turned away, when we’ve in a sense made ourselves enemies of the Lord and wallowed in our own messes and found ourselves poor, beaten down... kind of like the poor man in the story- when our friends and those we expected in this world to be there for us and they weren’t, the Lord is the Good Samaritan to us, He doesn’t abandon us, ignore us and pass on the other side of the road.
Love, the Lord tells us, is never abstract or distant; it "sees" and it responds. The compassion shown by the Samaritan is an image of the infinite mercy of God, who always sees our needs and draws near to us in love. Pope Francis.
Can we perhaps even begin to imagine letting go of some of the bitterness we’re nursing; the anger we’ve gone from being justified for to using as an excuse for not doing something we feel that nudge in our hearts to do (making that phone call, sending that card, reaching out to that person) Can we look at those we despise and imagine trying to be loving to them simply because that is as deep as Jesus loves us? Jesus showed us the best in the Samaritan. Can we really settle for anything else? What does our hearts tell us?
The evil, the hatred we see between groups of other people - we can feel powerless to change. But the amazingly beautiful point of today’s Gospel isn’t about how Samaritans and Jews as groups reconcilled. They never really did. But how two individuals from those two different groups chose not to let that evil "group think" confine them, define them, determine their responses. The Jew was in need, the Samaritan lovingly responded. And 2,000 years we’re still moved by that encounter.