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JULY 11, 2010: FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoon strips, Linus is in the kitchen making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when he suddenly notices his hands. Staring at them, he walks into the living room and tells his sister, “Lucy, these could one day be the hands of a great surgeon, or a powerful leader, or a terrific scientist!” Lucy looks up and says, “Those hands have jelly all over them!”

The disciple of Paul who composed Colossians is a little bit like Linus. He or she is totally taken by Jesus. “Christ Jesus,” the author reflects, “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation . . . before all things.  ... the head of the body, the church . . . the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.”

There’s no way the writer is going to let anyone in the Colossian community take Jesus for granted. He’s far beyond anything or anyone else we encounter.

On the other hand, the author of Deuteronomy and Luke point out the jelly to their readers. No matter how “other worldly” they themselves are, Jesus and Yahweh still expect us to live in an ordinary world and relate with ordinary people.

Moses couldn’t be more clear. “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote . . . . Not up in the sky . . . nor across the sea. .. . It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Yahweh doesn’t expect the Chosen People to walk around with their heads in the clouds, or constantly have a far-off look on their faces. God only wants them to be concerned with what’s immediately before their eyes, as close as a needy neighbor.

Quite possibly, Luke’s Jesus has this Deuteronomy passage in mind as he responds to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?”

We must first understand how Samaritans are looked upon by main-stream Jews at the time of Jesus. The next time you’re visiting the Louvre Museum in Paris, check out the ancient stone sign Napoleon’s soldiers found in Jerusalem’s Kidron valley. The historical Jesus probably read that very sign at various points of his life. Originally positioned in the temple, it warned specific people, under pain of death, not to step beyond it. One of the groups so warned is Samaritans. Though they regarded themselves to be Jews, their intermarrying with Gentiles centuries before made them religious outcasts in the eyes of other Jews.

This is important when we hear that a priest and Levite “pass by on the opposite side of the road” from where the half-dead, mugged Israelite is lying. Because they work at the temple, they can’t afford to become “unclean” by coming into contact with an injured, bloody man. The Samaritan, who would be killed if he even entered the temple, has no such scruples. He does what God expects: he cares for his neighbor.

As a reformer of Judaism, Jesus uses this parable to convince his followers that nothing should stand in our way when it comes to responding to someone in need - not even religious rules and regulations.

Years ago, I asked my freshmen religion students what they would do if they came upon an accident on their way to Sunday Eucharist - the last Eucharist in which they could participate that day. If they stopped to help, they’d miss Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation. After 8 years of Catholic education, the vast majority assured me they’d just say a silent prayer for the victims as they passed by on their way to church. (A few assured me they’d leave at communion and go back to see if they could still be of help.)

Somehow I don’t think they got the point of Jesus’ Good Samaritan, here and now, jelly-stained morality.