The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Deuteronomy 30:10-14 + Colossians 1:15-20 + Luke 10:25-37
July 10, 2022
“And who is my neighbor?”
In the year A.D. 529, Saint Benedict laid the foundation for one of the great monasteries in the history of the Church. Monte Cassino, southeast of Rome, is both very accessible and very easy to spot as you journey towards it. It sits on the crest of a small mountain, surrounded on three sides by valleys.
One of Father Benedict’s most famous rules for his monks is that “in the person of the stranger, Christ is served”. Every person who knocks on the doors of a monastery is to be treated as if it were Jesus himself knocking on the door. Every year on July 11th, the Church celebrates one of the feast days of Saint Benedict, the father of monastic life in the West. St. Benedict exemplified in his life the invitation that Christ is making to the lawyer in today’s Gospel passage. Christ makes this same invitation to you and me.
Members of the Benedictine religious order, like all members of religious orders, live lives that are marked by poverty, chastity, and obedience to their superior (that is, the Abbot of their community). The Benedictines, however, take a vow which distinguishes them: the vow of stability. This vow makes Benedictine life different than the lives of religious such as Dominicans and Franciscans, who by the design of their founders were meant to be mendicants, begging for their daily bread as they travelled to and fro through Christian lands, and sometimes beyond.
Benedictines are “tied” both to each other and to the stranger who finds them. Throughout the Middle Ages, Benedictine abbeys were beacons amidst the confusion and chaos caused by rulers and noblemen fighting each other and pagan tribes invading Christian lands in Europe and northern Africa. These abbeys were not only centers of learning, but also served the poor of the area, including those who were travelling.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is about the same themes that Benedictine life illustrates: being tied, being bound, and being wedded to others, no matter who that “other” may be.
As we reflect upon the Gospel Reading, we might imagine what was in this lawyer’s mind as he asked Jesus what he must “do to inherit eternal life”. Likewise, it’s easy to guess what sort of answer he was hoping to hear when he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Most likely he wanted Jesus to say something like: “Anyone within a one-mile radius is your neighbor.” In that case, the lawyer would have moved into a deserted area where he could buy four square miles, so that he could plant his house in the middle and have no one any closer than a mile to him. In other words, the passage implies that the lawyer asked his question in order to isolate himself from others. But Jesus’ parable only forces him—and us—into even closer contact with others. Jesus does this by telling His parable about the Good Samaritan.
To us today, the phrase “good Samaritan” is a common part of Western culture. A “good Samaritan” is someone who helps another in need. This phrase, however, didn’t have that sort of meaning within the culture in which Jesus and the lawyer lived. To them, the phrase “good Samaritan” was an oxymoron, like talking about a “square circle” or a “good devil”. The idea of a “good Samaritan” was inconceivable to Jewish people of Jesus’ day, because the Samaritans lived at a distance from anyone like Jesus who worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem. The idea that a Samaritan would help someone going down to Jerusalem was beyond belief.
So the brief moral of this parable is that the person who’s looking to limit his love doesn’t know what love is really about. How, then, would you put the parable’s moral into practice? While you may rarely have a stranger knocking on your door as a wanderer knocked on the door of a medieval abbey, you can expand your definition of “neighbor” by praying for someone you are not inclined to pray for.
God loves everyone, even if you and I do not always love everyone. We need to realize, then: if God loves someone, we should also, since we’re supposed to live in the Image and likeness of God. If there’s someone whom we do not love, that says that we’re not living our lives in the same way that God does.