15th Sunday of Ordinary time year C 2016:
Today we hear the inspiring story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a powerful reminder of just what mercy is all about. We have been celebrating mercy this whole past year. We have been thinking and talking a lot about mercy. Here again, mercy is in the forefront of our scripture passage. Mercy is really at the heart of the whole gospel. Mercy is at the heart of Christ, who came to bring us the Father’s mercy.
In some ways, this story really encapsulates the message behind the year of mercy. Jesus gives us an example of mercy with the story of the Good Samaritan, then he says: go and do likewise. This is a great way to live the year of mercy. We should immerse ourselves in examples of mercy. Of course, the most important is Jesus. Reflecting on the mercy of the Cross, the amazing gift of the Eucharist, the sacraments, the Church. All these things help us to see mercy, so that we can go and do likewise. There are many other great examples, Mother Theresa, and the mercy she showed to the poorest of the poor. Saint John Paul II and his courageous witness to hope and mercy. Saint Faustina and her powerful message of mercy. One thing that really stuck with me was when we had our mercy roundtable a couple months back. Members of our community who are living mercy came and shared their stories. We heard about jail chaplains, hospice ministry, and work with the poor and the needy. If you feel like this year of mercy is flying by, it’s not too late to seek out some examples of mercy.
Go and do likewise. That’s the big challenge isn’t it. I mean, look at Christ on the Cross. He is the divine savior of the world: go and do likewise. Die to yourself so that others can live. Jesus says, I give you myself in the Eucharist, can you give of yourself to feed and strengthen others? Jesus came to bestow mercy upon us, but not so we can sit on the sidelines. He says, Go and do likewise.
What can hold us back from living the merciful life? I suppose there can be a number of roadblocks. It could be our sinfulness, our selfishness. We could be blocked simply by our inability or unwillingness to receive God’s mercy. Hopefully, this year of mercy is a great time to overcome some of these issues. But, the gospel also points to another roadblock of mercy: self-justification.
I don’t look very good in today’s gospel. As a canon lawyer, I’m a scholar of the law, like the one in the gospel who tried to justify himself. Also, you have the priest who walks on the other side of the road. So, I’m getting it from 2 angles here. Notice that this scholar of the law knows precisely what the law asks of him. Jesus asks him: what does the law say. He knows it: love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. But, he wanted to justify himself: who is my neighbor? Excuses. He wanted an excuse to limit his living of this commandment. He wanted to be able to draw limits to living the merciful life. He wanted to be able to comfort himself with only going so far with living these commands. Making excuses can be a powerful roadblock to living the life of mercy.
In the parable, we have the priest and the Levite, both of whom pass by the poor, beaten man without helping. I’m sure they had great excuses. More than likely, the insinuation is that they were heading to the temple. There were laws in the Old Testament that stated that if a person came into contact with blood or a dead person, they were not able to perform ritual service in the temple until some time had passed. So, they probably had great excuses: I’d like to help, but I’m on my way to the temple and if I get involved I won’t be able to worship God today. But, that excuse kept them from living the life of mercy that Jesus to which Jesus is calling. What about the Good Samaritan? He had a number of chances to use an excuse: well, this guy can’t walk, so how can I help? He puts him on his own animal and he walks instead. He has a longer trip and he can’t stay to help the man. So, he decides to take him to an inn. Staying at an inn will cost a lot of money. He pays for the inn out of his own pocket. Each time, he could have had a good excuse as to why he wasn’t going to help. Yet, each time, he doesn’t use an excuse, he simply responds in mercy.
So, here is your homework assignment. Monitor your use of excuses. Sometimes we use excuses to justify our behavior in the past. I see this in confession sometime: forgive me father, I did this or that… but really I only did it because of this reason. If we want mercy, we should just admit our faults. Try it at home. Sometimes we get into fights or arguments simply because we don’t take responsibility. We want to justify ourselves, deflect blame. I’m convinced we would all be better off if we just got better at admitting our faults and asking for mercy. Sometimes we use excuses to pardon ourselves from doing something hard in the future. I would make peace with that family member, but he wouldn’t listen to me anyway. I would like to help the poor, but I just don’t know how I would get involved. I would like to get more active in my faith, but I just don’t have any extra time.
Excuses can be a real barrier to living the life of mercy. Take some time this week in prayer and ask God to show you the excuses you have been using that stop you from living the life of mercy. Jesus wanted to lead this scholar of the law to eternal life. He wants to lead us to eternal life. This is the mercy he wants to give us. Christ shows us the great example of mercy and then he says: go and do likewise.