Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37 or Psalm 19:8-11
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1:15-20
Gospel: According to St. Luke 10:25-37
Never in His public ministry was Jesus asked a question as important as the one asked in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Ironically, the question was asked, says Luke, in order to test Jesus – meaning, it was asked in order to trip Him up. Little did the questioner know that the answer to his condescending query would become one of the most beloved parables ever recorded.
The question asked of Jesus by the scholar of the law was, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Since he called Jesus “Teacher,” the English translation of “Rabbi,” Jesus answers in true rabbinic form – He answers the question by asking a question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
The scholar answers by quoting the law, as a good scholar should do, but the fact that he does not just rest on his laurels after Jesus gives a positive response indicates a change in the scholar’s approach. He has moved from someone who is testing the Teacher to one who actually wants to learn. Any teacher knows that this is one of the most satisfying moments that can occur in a classroom, and Jesus does what any good teacher would do in that situation: He makes the most of the moment and guides the student to a new and deeper insight.
When the scholar asks, “Who is my neighbor?” he gives Jesus the opening necessary to drive home His real message through what has come to be known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”: Eternal life has little to do with the law, but it has everything to do with mercy.
As with all of His teachings, this parable is about unconditional love. When the Samaritan came upon the wounded man he had no idea what had happened, and for all he knew the man might have deserved the beating – after all, there was no reason for a Samaritan to think well of a Jew. The Samaritan was “moved with compassion at the sight,” and did all he could to help the beaten man. No questions were asked; help was needed and therefore help was given. This is the sort of behavior that we tend to call heroic or saintly.
The French Catholic writer Léon Bloy (1846-1917) has had some memorable things to say about the heroic and the saintly. Bloy is relatively unknown to the American audience simply because so few of his works have been translated into English. But he is well-known enough to be one of the writers quoted by Pope Francis in his opening homily as the newly elected Bishop of Rome.
On the topic of acting in a heroic manner Bloy, in his usual no-compromise style, declared that “any Christian who is not a hero is a pig.” Here Bloy shows us several things. First, he shows that he must not have been able to get his hands on a French translation of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. But more importantly, he shows that he understands that the heroism of the Good Samaritan stands as an indispensable aspect of the Good News.
On the other hand, his well-known quote on saintliness, the concluding statement in his profoundly brilliant novel The Woman Who Was Poor, is less acerbic as well as a fitting final response to the scholar in Luke: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”