Sunday Scriptures — OT C 15, Jul. 10, 2016

On this Sunday, we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. It comes as part of a dialogue initiated with a question about what one must do. Our first reading assures us that God’s law (what we must do) is not difficult to know.
The first reading — Deuteronomy 30:10-14 — presents Moses pleading with the people —us — to heed the voice of the Lord expressed for them in the book of the law. But it is not merely a matter of careful adherence to specific commands. It is a matter of returning to the Lord with all one’s heart and all one’s soul — phrases which find their echo in the gospel for today. The law is not remote or arcane. It is already in our hearts, planted there by God. James 1:21 speaks of “the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” It is a word of which we must be doers, not just hearers.
There are two alternative responsorial psalms. The first — verses of Psalm 69 — tis the prayer of one who is in distress, followed by a promise of help from God. It puts us n the place of the victim in the gospel who is rescued by the Good Samaritan. The second — Psalm 19:8-11 — is praise of God’s law.
The gospel — Luke 10:25-37 — presents a scholar of the law asking Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus asks him for his opinion. The scholar gives what seems to have been a commonly held opinion at the time, and Jesus endorses it. It is a matter of loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It is worth noting that neither the scholar nor Jesus specifically references the ten commandments, much less the entirety of the specific commands of the law. A slavish obedience to rules done without love, but out of fear, is not what God seeks. When we are animated by love, our specific good deeds will have value. This is also the underlying principle in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Mere observance of the commandments is not enough. The spirit behind the commandments must form our actions so that we transcend the commandments.
It may be that the scholar was asking his question in the sense of seeking to kow what was the minimum standard of conduct. His follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor,” can be read as an attempt to establish a limit to the breadth of the love that is commanded. At any rate, Jesus refuses to set any limit. The scholar must follow the example of the Good Samaritan. Given the mutual hostility between Jews and Samaritans, it would have been easy enough for a Samaritan to be unwilling to help a Jew. But this Samaritan loves the Jew as himself, not merely in some theoretical way, but with a love that leads to action. Jesus is saying that all people, without exception, are the neighbors we must love, and if that love is genuine, we will help those we can when they are in distress.
There may be an implication also that there are some rules which love must override. The avoidance of the victim by the priest and the levite may have been because they would incur ritual impurity by touching the victim. But that rule should not have been controlling in such an urgent case of need.
Finally, in the light of the first alternative responsorial psalm, we can see ourselves as the victims in a spiritual sense. We are sinners, in danger of spiritual death if left to ourselves. But Jesus comes to our rescue, taking on our humanity and giving the care we need — namely his own life, on the cross.
The second reading — Colossians 1:15-20 — is the first of several that we will hear from this epistle. It is not intended to have any direct connection with the other two readings, although the emphasis on Jesus’ work as savior does correspond with the interpretation of the gospel which sees him as the Good Samaritan par excellence. We can see much of it reflected in the creed we recite at Sunday Mass.
“[T] image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” —“[T]he Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”
[I]n him were created all things in heaven and on earth.” —“[T]hrough him all things were made.”
“He is the head if the body, the church.” — “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” — “[H]e suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”
“[T]hat in all things he himself might be preeminent.” — “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
The final lines of the reading recapitulate these passages of the creed, while expanding what it says about Jesus saving work on our behalf.

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