15th Sunday 2019
Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
Has it ever occurred to you that you should read this Gospel standing on your head? You see it is upside down. The lawyer asks “Who is my neighbour?” and Our Lord is making the point that everyone is my neighbour, and that the lawyer must love, and go to the aid of, everyone in need. We might have expected then a parable in which a lawyer, or at least an observant Jew, goes to the aid of an outsider, a Samaritan. Instead, the positions are reversed, and it is the outsider, the outcast, the heretic, in the person of the Samaritan, who does the helping, who shows the love, who fulfils the commandment.
I wonder whether we have realised quite how shocking this is. The Son of God is saying that the one who does not have the true faith may be fulfilling the commandments better than the chosen people, and is, presumably, being saved thereby. This should kick into touch the claim of the extreme evangelicals that only those who “have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour” are saved. This has always struck me as too individualistic to fit in with the life and the teachings of that same Jesus Christ, and this parable explodes it completely. The Samaritans were heretics, yet one of them is used by the Saviour as the paradigm for the fulfilment of the commandments.
Do such things as right doctrine, membership of the chosen people, membership of the Church, not matter then? Indeed they do. The First Commandment is still the demand that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and God formed a people, and sent as Saviour His Son, who established a Church, and who declared Himself to be the truth. Love of God, then, demands that we align ourselves as fully as possible with all of that, and I don’t think that we need to give serious consideration to the childish cliché which did the rounds a few years ago—“Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, and it was the Church that came”. That is simply adolescent smart-alickry.
Nonetheless, we need to be aware that right opinion without love of neighbour is not love of God; we cannot fulfil the First Commandment if we are not fulfilling the Second. We do not need to go back into history to realise that some who profess to love God and to follow Christ can be among the harshest, the most intolerant, the most unloving of all. Again that doesn’t mean that we have to accept every daft idea, approve every lifestyle, which comes along. It does mean that our attitude must always be based on love, and that the language of condemnation has no place in our vocabulary.
As in so many things, Pope Francis has shown us the way, embracing the self-professed gay man who, accompanying a group on a televised visit to the Vatican, at first refused to meet the Pope, as he assumed that he would be condemned, only to be reduced to tears and to be completely won over by Francis’ Christ-like attitude.
A few years earlier, Francis fulfilled the Lord’s command “Do not judge” by saying to another homosexual man who approached him, “Who am I to judge?”, which caused uproar among the present day “lawyers”, the neo-Pharisees, who are based largely, though not entirely, in North America, and who are horrified by the Holy Father’s desire to make the Church more Christ-like. Of course we must not judge them, but it is difficult to avoid the feeling that, if Jesus were to return, they would crucify Him anew.
We can never afford to be smug, though. The lawyer spells out the commandments of love of God and of neighbour, and the parable hammers them home. Every day, we must be striving to fulfil both of them, well aware that they cannot be separated.