Homily, 15th Sunday Ordinary Time, C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA
“Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” Here, St. Paul is affirming the great truth that the Church has proclaimed through all the ages: that Jesus Christ is the God-man, fully human and fully divine. And it is very important to understand what this means, that we do not misinterpret it. He is not part God and part man, or some mixture of the two; he became truly man while remaining truly God (CCC 464). Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes explains (GS 38). “God's Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men. Thus He entered the world's history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it. He Himself revealed to us that "God is love" and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the worlds transformation.”
And the story of the Good Samaritan is a good illustration of how he is both divine and human. For in this story, Jesus Christ is both the Good Samaritan and the man who fell in with robbers, and we have a role to play as well.
In answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus tells the story of the traveler going from Jerusalem to Jericho. Well, that road would have been familiar to his listeners, for it was notoriously dangerous at the time. And when Jesus said, “going down” this road, he wasn’t kidding, for in just 20 miles, the road dropped down 3600 feet, and was full of narrow, rocky crevices and sudden turns. In short, it was a happy hunting ground for robbers and thieves, who could hit their victims with ease and escape quickly back into the hills. The traveler in Jesus’ story had no one to blame but himself for traveling alone, with valuables to steal, on such a dangerous road. So the help offered by the Good Samaritan was indeed gratuitous, for the traveler had, in a sense, brought the trouble on himself.
And if we look at this story from the standpoint of Christ’s Divinity, then Jesus is the Good Samaritan. We were the ones who fell in with robbers through our own fault. We tried to travel on our own without God and fell because of sin. We were wounded by our sin, left dying by the side of the road with no way to save ourselves, but Jesus came down from heaven to earth to heal us, bind us up, nurse us back to health, and provide for our care.
But in another sense, in his humanity, Christ is also the man who fell in with robbers. For scripture tells us, (Isaiah 53:4-5) “it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured... he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins... by his stripes we were healed”, (2 Cor. 8:9), “for our sake he became poor although he was rich”, (2 Cor. 5:21), and “for our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin.”
So, in a special way, Jesus identifies with all those who suffer, for he took on our humanity so that he could raise up what was fallen, restore what was lost, and heal what was wounded.
And because Jesus identifies himself with the man who fell in with robbers, he calls us to be the Good Samaritan, to be like him and to respond with compassion and action to those in need. And at the last judgment, Jesus tells us that we will be judged on how we respond to that call, for he says (Mt. 25) “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.... I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
St. John Chrysostom would reflect on these words of Jesus and have Jesus say to us: “I am not saying to you: solve all my problems for me, give me everything you have, even though I am poor for love of you. I only ask for some bread and clothes, some relief for my hunger. I am in prison. I do not ask you to free me. I only wish, that for your own good, you pay me a visit. That will be enough for me, and I in return will make you a gift of heaven. I have freed you from a prison a thousand times more harsh. But I am happy if you come and visit me from time to time.” (NPNF, v.11, p.458)
Throughout the history of the Church, people have responded to this call, to be the Good Samaritan who reaches out to Christ in the suffering and the poor.
If you ever have a chance to visit the Basilica Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md., not too far from where I went to seminary, you will see two beautiful stained glass windows. One depicts what are called the Spiritual works of mercy, and the other depicts the Corporal works of mercy. They reflect the work that the Daughters of Charity, the order founded by St. Elizabeth, dedicate their lives to.
The Spiritual works of mercy are these: To convert the sinner; To instruct the ignorant; To counsel the doubtful; To comfort the sorrowful; To bear wrongs patiently; To forgive injuries; To pray for the living and the dead.
And the Corporal works of mercy are: To feed the hungry; To give drink to the thirsty; To clothe the naked; To shelter the homeless; To visit the sick; To visit the imprisoned; To bury the dead.
And in our day and age, there are so many opportunities to be involved with these works of mercy. In our everyday lives, we do the spiritual works by giving Christian witness, by teaching our children, by encouraging and supporting our friends, and by trying to be more virtuous people. And the opportunities for corporal works of mercy are even greater, for we can reach out to the homeless and needy, visit the lonely and abandoned, and pray for those who are sick.
Vatican II explains, (GS 38), “To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, [The Lord] gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life.”
And I want to reiterate one point, that may be lost sometimes: the Good Samaritan responded to the needs of the man who fell in with robbers, even though this man was entirely at fault for not taking enough precautions when traveling a dangerous road. And we are called to do the same today, and respond with compassion and action even to those who have brought trouble on themselves. We are called to be like Christ who came to us even in the midst of our sin. St. Paul says, (Romans 5:8), “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” And if that is how God proves his love for us, then if we are to prove our love to him and inherit everlasting life, then we must do as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “Go and do likewise.”
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