Doing the right thing

  • June 28, 2007
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), July 15 (Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37)

The holiest and most precious things are usually close at hand. Sometimes we think that a spiritual quest involves trips to deserts, monasteries or mountaintops. Many want to consult gurus and teachers, or practise ascetic regimes. All of this to answer a few basic questions: Who is God? Who am I? How should I live? What is right and wrong?
But God would not have made the answers to these puzzles available only to the elite and the super-motivated. God’s teachings are simple (though not necessarily easy) and direct. They require no elaborate spiritual marathons.

It requires listening not to our fears, selfishness or to the strident demands of egos formed by a competitive and materialistic society. Instead, deep inside each of us and written in our hearts and souls is the law of God. It is summarized by the principle “treat others as you would wish to be treated” and “love God and love others.” All the rest is reflection on and practical application of these basic principles. Unfortunately, humans have a love of making things unnecessarily complicated and bending principles according to self-interest.

How are we to understand the notion that Jesus is the image of the invisible God? It certainly does not mean image in the physical sense, since God does not have physical form. But Jesus reveals in the fullest sense what it means for the radiance of God to shine unencumbered through a human being.

Genesis also describes human beings as being created in the image and likeness of God. That image became smudged and disfigured by sin and ignorance. As some of the Church Fathers expressed it, Christ restored that image by sitting again for the portrait of humanity. As a person who is both divine and human, Jesus reconciled the world to God, for He speaks the unifying language of compassion and healing rather than punishment, exclusion and violence.

As individuals draw closer to God, they also find themselves seeing and treating humanity with one eye and one heart. They are not captivated by “isms” and they avoid applying labels or categories to others. The desire to heal and reconcile and the willingness to forgive and to include flows from living in harmony with the image of God whose likeness we bear.

Our Samaritan friend seems to have learned that well. We all know that there was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews, and they had mutually negative opinions of each other. The point of this well-known parable is not that it is nice to do good deeds. It is a model of how people who are close to God treat and relate to other people.

We don’t know the motivations of those who passed by the victim — it could have been fear, selfishness or anything else. The simple fact remains, however, that they did not stop to help the victim. The Samaritan is symbolic of those who live in harmony with the image of God in their soul. He didn’t stop to see if the person on the road was a member of his group, nor did he run a purity check. He expected no reward; in fact, he (and others like him) was not even aware of doing anything exceptional.

“Samaritans” do the compassionate and decent thing because it is part of who they are. The Samaritan’s kindness will also be an opportunity for the victim in this story to change. When he recovers he will probably ask the innkeeper who brought him in and paid the bill. When the innkeeper replies “a Samaritan,” the man can always either deny it or shrug it off. But he can also change his view of Samaritans and be drawn to exercising the same sort of compassion.

The parable has more contemporary relevance than we might admit. There has been a distressing tendency in the past decades to “circle the wagons” — self-definition in contrast and opposition to others. Fear has grown enormously in the last few years, along with the quickness to “profile” and exclude others, whether by race, religion, political beliefs or lifestyle. People who are serious about walking in Christ’s footsteps recognize only common humanity and the image of God in others.

If Christ has reconciled the world to God, we need to think, speak and act accordingly.