15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE LAW IS SIMPLE AND NEAR

Good-Samaritan

If you have lived in a barrio in the province, perhaps you may have experienced how being a neighbor means. Being a neighbor is to know someone not just their names, work and other peripherals but more so their needs, problems and aspirations. Being a neighbor is to share whatever you have like food, fruits of the harvest. Being a neighbor is reaching out to someone especially in their time of need.

One time I was invited by a friend to her condo unit. I asked her does she know the people in her neigboring units in the condo. She said no. Usually, in the condo, nobody knows anybody, everybody live their lives each to his/her own, she told me.

Perhaps, this is one of the saddest maladies of modern living. In a supposedly highly connected world we have lost connection with the closest people in our lives–our families, our neighbors. We have become distant to the people who are most physically near to us.

This is also the malady of our faith today. We have lost connection with the heart of our faith. We see our faith as a set of laws that is remote, if not alien, to the concrete reality of our daily lives.

In the First Reading of today’s 15th Sunday in ordinary time, Moses explains that God’s law is not so mysterious and remote. It is already in our mouths and hearts.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

This suggests that the law is no longer written on tablets of stone but engraved on the hearts of people

In the Gospel, a lawyer, an expert of the law, asks Jesus what is the most important law of all. Jesus asks the lawyer what the latter thinks. Being a typical lawyer, the man says, mechanically, the most important of all the laws:

You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.

But again being the typical lawyer who seem bent on cross-examining Jesus, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer was talking more about the law as the law written on tablets of stone.

Unlike the lawyer, however, Jesus did not respond in a mechanical or legalistic way, but with a parable. But in the end, as we shall see, Jesus will show us the true meaning of the law and how the law is very close to our hearts.

So we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps, we have heard this parable many times. This is my most favorite parable of Jesus. In the parable, a man fell victim to robbers. They beat him terribly, take his money, and leave him lying in the road, half-dead. Three people happen to pass by and saw the man in need: a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite merely passed by leaving the man on the street. Only the Samaritan came to the aid of the hapless man. Incidentally, the Priest and the Levite are keepers of the law whereas the Samaritan is seen by many as disobedient to the law.

At the end of the parable, Jesus returns to the heart of the law. Jesus’ concern was not the abstract interpretation but how to practice the most important of all the laws, which he put into the question: “How am I a neighboor to someone in need?” The lawyer’s question was a more abstract question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns it into a practical question: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” In other words, the question of Jesus was a smack on the face of the lawyer who is an expert of the law: Who fulfilled the law in this situation? The lawyer could only answer, “The one who treated him with mercy.” It was not the temple priest nor the Levite who were strict guardians of the laws of purity but the outsider–the much maligned Samaritan who was seen as ignorant, and therefore, transgressor of the law, as the one who fulfilled the greatest law: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself!

Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan continues to be retold today. We are the new characters of this parable today. We are the modern day Priest, Levite or Good Samaritan. When someone is in grave need, do we stop whatever we are doing or do we just pass them by? How do we respond to someone in need?  Do we say, “I may get sued.” “Others will come to help.” “I’m in a hurry.” “The poor wretch should have planned for disaster.” “I am scared.”

We have a shortage of neighbor in our world today. We have become not neighbor but condominium dwellers. We live in our own ghettos. This is shown in our difficulty loving others because we do not understand “neighbor” as Jesus did. Neighbor for us means people we like, people who are on our side, who work for a living, and who mind their own business. Jesus redefines neighbor as the hated stranger who is down and out, challenging us to stop what we are doing and care for his need.

Who are the people in most need of Good Samaritans right now? The sick and the dying? The victims of EJK? The homeless? The hungry? The migrants? The trafficked? Whether they be large or small, friend or enemy, rich or poor, we can find them everywhere, calling us out of our comfort zone, making ourselves vulnerable in order to be present to someone different, desperate and diffident.

The law is not mysterious and remote to us. It is not up in the sky, nor across the sea. No, it is something very near to us. It is in whatever situation when we become neighbor to someone who is in need.

 

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31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE ♥ OF CHRISTIANITY

sunset hands love woman
Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

During my almost 10 years of hearing confession at the Baclaran shrine, the most common sins that people confess were against the Ten Commandments. As you know the ten commandments are expressed mostly in the negative: “Thou shall not kill.” “Thou shall not commit adultery.” “Thou shall not steal.” “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” etc. This emphasizes the sin of commission rather than the sin of omission. Sins of commission are sins that we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do. It’s the type of sin in which most of us are familiar with. Sins of omission, on the other hand, are sins we commit by not doing something we ought to do. Come to think of it, most of us are more guilty of the sin of omission. Examples of sins of omission are not praying, not standing up for the truth, not sharing Christ with others, not sharing our talents and wealth with others, not defending the poor and victims of  injustice, oppression and abuse and many others.

Focusing on the ten commandments and the sin of commission also reinforces the view that Christianity is a set of rules, of do’s and don’ts. Christianity is merely concerned with the externals. Christianity is the mere fulfillment of an obligation and a duty.

The readings for today’s 31st Sunday in ordinary time focuses on Christianity as a way of life based on love. The readings focused on love–loving God, loving others and loving oneself–as the heart and soul of our faith. Not that there is any contradiction between the Ten Commandments and the commandment to love the Lord and our neighbor with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength but living out the Ten Commandments without love of God, neighbor and self would be empty and superficial.

In the first reading, the book of Deuteronomy talks about the Shema (“Hear O Israel”), which became the daily Jewish prayer.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”

“Hear, O Israel” was to become a centerpiece of all morning and evening Jewish prayer services. This great commandment of the Hebrew covenant is the greatest commandment, to love God above all else and with all we have. God is to be loved in response to his prior revelation of himself as the one God. In Hebraic thought, heart, soul, and strength do not mean separate human faculties but the person in the totality of his/her being.

Despite being the greatest commandment, it was the most abused commandment by the people of God, as the people of Israel struggled with different forms of idolatry. In our own day we continue to violate this commandment with the various idolatries that infect our public life: worship of money, adoration at the altar of capitalism, religious reverence for authoritarian rule which gives blessings to the brutal drug war on drugs which has killed more than 20,000 suspected drug pushers and addicts.

In the gospel, Jesus ratifies this greatest commandment but also links it with the love of neighbor: taken together the two commandments cover the ground. Jesus did not invent the second greatest commandment. He only link it with the first, to tie together love of God with love of neighbor.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. …
[And] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Just as we violate the first commandment, so we violate the second one as well: we discriminate against our neighbor, we use our political and economic power to oppress our neighbor, we overwork and underpay our neighbor, we sexually harass our neighbor, we physically abuse our neighbor, we lock our neighbor up and forget about him, we seem to do many things that are not love of neighbor.

To love God, to love our neighbor as ourselves is the greatest commandment of our faith. There is no greater commandment than these. It is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. The heart of Christianity is not in the law, external practices but in putting our heart and soul into loving God, neighbor and self.

Love is, however, more than just a duty or an obligation. Love is the very core of our being, the very heart of Christianity. Love is our deepest identity. We are born to love because we are created in the image and likeness of God who is love. The greatest sin that we can commit, therefore, is the failure to love, the omission to love, the denial of our identity as a loving creature.  At the end of the day, we will be judged as to how we have loved God and loved our neighbor as ourselves.

Christ, write on our hearts your law of love so that we can love you with our whole soul, our whole mind, and all our understanding, and with every ounce of our strength. And let our love for you spill over to our neighbor and our selves.