Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Deuteronomy: 30:10-14
Corinthians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-27


July 10-11, 2004, Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The great commandment does NOT tell us that we must love everybody.

In our first reading Moses starts off by telling the people what the law of God is NOT before he ends up with what the law of God is. So I thought I would start that way too. Parables are not just cute little stories that illustrate a point. Jesus uses parables to shake up his audience, to stand their idea of who God is and what the law is about on its head so that they can start to see something different, something so much deeper and truer. This parable of the Good Samaritan is NOT about overcoming our predjudices to love someone we thought we hated.

A scholar of the law, wouldn’t you know it – a lawyer, stands up and sounds out Jesus on what it takes to inherit eternal life. Jesus tests the scholar right back. “How do you read the law?” The scholar is very well versed and cuts right to the chase, summarizing all 613 directives in the Law with two commandments: Love God with your whole heart, and being, and strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Paul, writing in Galatians (5:14), takes it even further when he says that the whole law can be summed up in that simple command to love neighbor as self. And Jesus apploads him for getting it right. But Jesus cautions him to remember that it is not enough to know this or to believe it. He must DO it so that he may live.

But the lawyer is not satisfied. He needs to know just exactly what this one great commandment means: Who is my neighbor? I think it is safe to say that many of us have that same attitude: tell me what the boundaries are; how far can I go before I am over the line. That kind of thinking ends up generating a whole catalog of rules, covering every imaginable case so we don’t have to make a decision, other than whether to obey the rule or not.

It is pretty clear that the lawyer envisions a pre-existing set of people out there that constitute his neighbor. He just wants some help from Jesus in figuring out who is in and who is not. He wants to know the extent of his obligation.And if the lawyer went around the crowd asking the question, “who is my neighbor,” the very MOST that anyone would have answered would have been, “anyone who is a Jew or maybe the slave of a Jew”. No one outside that little circle would even have been considered neighbor, certainly not those dogs, the Samaritans. So Jesus doesn't even answer that question because it is the wrong question. He usees a parable to shake his listeners up, to make them let go, even if for a moment, this ingrained way of looking at this commandment.

I really had a hard time trying to cast the story into terms that would shock us today in the same way Jesus’ audience was shocked by his parable. The closest I could come was to imagine Jesus telling this story to a bunch of Israelis who had lost family to suicide bombers, and the one who stopped to help the victim was a Hamas member.

Now Jesus was not just trying to shock them for shock’s value. He needed to shake them loose from their rigid idea of what the great commandment was saying. He needs to free them so they can be caught up in this story and be transformed by it. For Jesus has made a fundamental change to the very question that was asked. No longer is the question, who is my neighbor but rather who am I neighbor to?

I started out by saying that this great commandment does NOT tell us we must love everyone. That would be really easy. For starters, it limits severely what is meant by love. It waters it down to a vague good feeling towards everyone. Jesus story says something very different. We are to love our neighbor; the very word means someone close by. And, as the story reveals, this love is not some vague feeling, it is an action. The Samaritan stopped what he was doing, upsetting his plans, and washed his wounds, and anointed them, and tore up some piece of clothing of his own to bandage him. Then he not only paid for his first month’s stay at the inn but opened himself up to unknown expenses.

The story sweeps us up out of our rigid, well-defined idea of what it takes to inherit the kingdom of God, and reveals that love is action. Action that is directed outward towards our neighbor, the person we find right in our path as we go about life who needs something that we have. This love of neighbor is not the result of some good feeling we have towards this person in our path. The Samaritan didn’t know this guy bleeding on the side of the road. This love expressed in action is the result of our being loved by God and loving God back. People truly in love see everyone around them differently, not just the one they love. In fact that is the best way to distinguish between love and obsession. Obsession narrows and excludes. True love widens and includes. It changes the way the lover looks at the whole world. For most of us, the experience of falling in love is the first time that we see the other as the center of the universe, instead of ourselves.

So the whole law is summed up in this commandment: love the person who is right around you by using what God has given you to help that person. Its not about who is your neighbor, it is about who you are neighbor to.

I would suggest that this applies not just to people but also to communities. As we struggle to understand what it means to be a Church of St. Isidore as opposed to the Parish of St. Isidore, I would recommend getting caught up in this story of the Good Samaritan. Rather than commiserating about what we are losing, let us reflect on the question, who are we neighbor to? What has God given us that is needed by those right around us? In answering that question, we might be surprised to find ourselves not worrying about what we are losing, but rather living unboundedly in the kingdom of God.

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