15th Sunday 2013 C
The lawyer in today’s Gospel asks a perfectly reasonable question: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It is a question we all want the answer to.
But knowing that he was dealing with a lawyer, Jesus turns the question back on the man and asks what is written in the law, which is his area of specialization.
The lawyer recites the answer perfectly. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbour as yourself.’
Being a lawyer, he uses the techniques of cross-examination. He wants Jesus to define the word neighbour.
The lawyer would, of course, have been very familiar with the Book of Leviticus which had determined that the word neighbour meant ‘sons of your own people’ i.e. fellow Israelites; although it makes a concession and also includes foreigners who have adopted Judaism. So, according to the law, the word neighbour was essentially understood to mean fellow Jews, not Gentiles and certainly not members of a heretical sect like the Samaritans.
This parable humbles us like no other. It provides us with a ready-made Examination of Conscience. And it does so because it describes such a real situation and it lays bare our deep ingrained selfishness and indifference. We discover how we are extremely inventive in coming up with excuses for inaction.
The lawyer asks the question: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ But Jesus at the end of the parable asks him a different question: ‘Who proved himself to be a neighbour?’
This gets to the heart of the whole matter. We should not be going round asking ourselves ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but rather looking at ourselves and asking ‘To whom am I a good neighbour?’
The Pope went on his first pastoral visit outside Rome since his election in March. Where did he go? To a tiny Italian Island with a population of 6000. The island is struggling to cope with thousands of illegal migrants. Lampedusa, about 120km from Tunisia, is one of the nearest gateways to Europe for Africans fleeing poverty and conflict. On arrival, he threw a wreath in the sea in memory of the many people who have drowned trying to reach Europe.
“Vehicles of hope became vehicles of death”. “When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago”, Pope Francis said, “and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart. So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated! First, however, I want to say a word of heartfelt gratitude and encouragement to you, the people of Lampedusa and Linosa, and to the various associations, volunteers and security personnel who continue to attend to the needs of people journeying towards a better future. You are so few, and yet you offer an example of solidarity! Thank you! …
How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.
"Where is your brother?" His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here.
"Where is your brother?" Who is responsible for this blood? In Spanish literature we have a comedy of Lope de Vega which tells how the people of the town of Fuente Ovejuna kill their governor because he is a tyrant. They do it in such a way that no one knows who the actual killer is. So when the royal judge asks: "Who killed the governor?", they all reply: "Fuente Ovejuna, sir". Everybody and nobody! Today too, the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!...
"Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?" Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – "suffering with" others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!” (Unquote)
We should be constantly querying ourselves as to whether we have been treating those around us with dignity and justice, with kindness and respect.
The Good Samaritan is a powerful example, and frequently a reproach, to us all. As Jesus says so unequivocally in that very last verse ‘Go and do likewise.’