Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C: by Wojciech Szypula, SVD

 

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Love without looking who!

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Psalm: 14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37; Second Reading: Colossians 1:15–20; Gospel:  Luke 10:25–37

 Psalm: 69:14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37

 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.

At an acceptable time, O God,

in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

With your faithful help

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;

according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

But I am lowly and in pain;

let your salvation, O God, protect me.

I will praise the name of God with a song;

I will magnify him with thanksgiving.

Let the oppressed see it and be glad;

you who seek God, let your hearts revive.

For the Lord hears the needy,

and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

For God will save Zion

and rebuild the cities of Judah;

and his servants shall live there and possess it;

the children of his servants shall inherit it,

and those who love his name shall live in it.

Reading the Word

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10–14

The Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15–20

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.

 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel: Luke 10:25–37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance, a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Hearing the Word

“Lasting Prosperity”

The Scriptures reflect God’s deep concern for the wellbeing and prosperity of the people in both the spiritual and the material sense. God’s word frequently provides guidelines on how to reach this state of prosperity, as is the case today.

The book of Deuteronomy, sometimes called “the Testament of Moses”, contains numerous instructions and exhortations which Moses delivered prior to his death. Today’s passage clearly reflects the intention behind Moses’ words. He begins by revealing God’s concern about his peoples’ prosperity and how God delights in “prospering” them. God’s commandments and decrees were inscribed in the book of the law known as “the Torah”, which literary means “the law” or “guidance”. The same word refers to the first five books of the Bible where these laws are found. The Torah is not a collection of God’s arbitrary and abstract decrees intended to burden the people. On the contrary, these laws are intended to bring prosperity and wellbeing to those willing to live by them.

Moses insists that God’s commands are neither too remote nor too hard to follow. The Torah is not hidden in the heavens or stashed away in a distant land. It is accessible and known, because God, through Moses, placed it within the peoples’ reach. All the Israelites need to do is to “place the Torah in their mouth and their hearts”, that is to speak of it and live by it. Thanks to God’s gift of the law, the way to wellbeing and prosperity has been made known.

The second reading begins the sequence of readings from the letter to the Colossians. Today’s passage contains one of the most beautiful and profound hymns dedicated to Christ in the New Testament. The author of Colossians placed this hymn in the opening lines of his letter to signify that all he writes should be read and understood in relation to Christ, whom he beautifully and profoundly describes as the creator and sustainer.

First, employing a series of striking and imposing images, the author proclaims Jesus’ divinity, describing him as the one who is “the image of the invisible God”, in whom “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. This confirms in no uncertain terms that Jesus is truly God. To show further Jesus’ supreme importance, the author describes him as the co-creator by stating that “in him, all things in heaven and on earth were created”. The material world and the heavenly beings described as “thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers” all trace their origin to Jesus. Finally, Jesus sustains creation in existence – “in him, all things hold together”. He truly is the creator and sustainer of all that there is.

Next, the author turns his attention to the relationship of Jesus to the Church calling him “the head of the Church”. Jesus is the head of the community of the faithful, the Church, as its creator, because he brought it into existence through his resurrection – he is “the firstborn from the dead”. Second, Jesus sustains the Church because through him God reconciles everything to himself. Jesus reconciled humanity to God by the sacrifice of the cross which brought about the forgiveness of sins and redemption. Those united with Jesus are united with God through him. This spiritual union is the very foundation and sustenance of the Church.

As the creator and sustainer of the world and the Church, Jesus is the foundation upon which all life, and particularly the life of believers, rests. In Colossians, the author focuses on the spiritual dimension of believers’ existence, emphasizing that spiritual prosperity and blessing can be found only in and through Jesus. The way to spiritual harmony and wellbeing leads through him who fills the community of believers with his presence.

The Gospel reading contains the well-known story of the “good Samaritan” whose true meaning often remains unrecognized. The story serves to answer the question posed by a Jewish religious scholar, a lawyer, about the way to attain eternal life. Posing the question, the lawyer intended to test Jesus as to whether he would remain faithful to the teaching of the Torah on this matter. Answering, Jesus quotes two key passages from the Torah. Citing Deuteronomy 6:5 Jesus states that eternal life requires the absolute and total commitment to God shown by loving him with all the heart, the soul and the mind. Second, eternal life requires the love of the neighbour as stated in Leviticus 19:18. Citing these two passages from the Torah Jesus proves himself completely faithful and compliant with the divine law.

The lawyer, not finding anything wrong with Jesus’ answers, pushes the matter further asking him to define what the word “neighbour” means. In the view of many Jews of Jesus’ day, the teaching and commandments of the Torah applied only to their fellow Jews. Therefore, responding to the challenge and to reveal the right interpretation of the Torah, Jesus proceeds to redefine the understanding of the meaning of “neighbour”.

Using the story of the Samaritan who helps a wounded Jewish man, Jesus challenged the prevailing understanding of “the neighbour”. The priest and the Levite, both Jews, were indifferent to their wounded compatriots, perhaps thinking him already dead. A non-Jew and a despised foreigner, a Samaritan, rescued the suffering man from death at a great personal expense. This certainly is a story of compassion, mercy, and inclusion, but its chief purpose is to teach a lesson about the way to eternal life.

The story clarifies that to gain eternal life one must love one’s neighbour. But who is the neighbour? Contrary to the common belief of the day, being neighbours is not based on ethnic, racial or national grounds. A person does not become a neighbour to another automatically, by the virtue of being born in the same country or being of the same race. Therefore, to have neighbours a person must “make neighbours”. This “neighbour making” process consists of extending mercy to another human being. Mercy in the biblical language is not about forgiveness but rather about protecting, preserving or restoring life and wellbeing of someone in need. Thus, we do not “have neighbours”, we “make neighbours”. Consequently, the way to eternal life leads through acts of mercy by which a person acquires neighbours. The story teaches that eternal life can be reached through acting mercifully towards a fellow human being in need. By helping fellow human beings prosper in their lives, believers walk the path to the ultimate prosperity.

Today’s liturgy teaches that prosperity, both spiritual and material, lies within the human reach. It is true that wellbeing in any form is ultimately God’s gift. However, the faithful must take hold of this gift by responding to God in three major ways. First, God’s commandments and precepts for a good life, made known in the Scriptures, must be followed. Second, believers will thrive spiritually through their intimate union with Jesus, the creator, and sustainer of the Church, and it’s head. Finally, through the practice of mercy believers who seek the wellbeing and prosperity of another person make neighbours for themselves, and fulfill the commandment of neighbourly love. Those who understand and act on the teaching of today’s liturgy are firmly set on the path to eternal life, to the ultimate and wholistic prosperity of eternity. These are those for whom, in the words of the Psalmist, “the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes”.

Listening to the Word of God

The liturgy of today reminds us that God cares for our well-being and prosperity in the material and spiritual sense. He does not leave us alone to search and pursue prosperity blindly but provides a guide for us through the teaching contained in the Scriptures.

First, we must thank God for the gift of his teaching given to us as a path to prosperity. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells us that the law of God is not something that is too abstract or written in such a way that it cannot be accessed. This law is near to us, and accessible.  It is the Word of God that we read and hear frequently.  We are called to make the word of God come alive in us so that we can prosper in all that we do. In our traditional African societies, there were many rules and regulations presented in the form of taboos. These taboos were meant to help individuals to have harmonious relationships with God, the ancestors, neighbours, and the environment, ultimately leading to prosperity. Whenever there was a disaster like famine or drought, it was seen as a sign of disharmony in this relationship between God, ancestors, neighbours, and the environment. Hence, the relationship had to be restored so that the land and its people could prosper. For us Christians, God’s word serves as a guide to maintaining this kind of life-preserving harmony.

Today’s liturgy also tells us about the central role of Jesus Christ. He is the one who sustains everything that there is because, through his passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus has reconciled everything to God. As Christians in search of lasting prosperity, we must never forget that the person of Jesus stands at the center of our lives. All our pursuits, material and spiritual, must be related to him. In him, we find that spiritual connection to God that eventually gives us the greatest prosperity imaginable – eternal life.

The liturgy also teaches us that the quest for spiritual and material prosperity involves our relationship with our neighbour whom we encounter in our day to day activities. Jesus tells us that the neighbour is not necessarily the one who lives next door to us. Rather we are called to make neighbours through our acts of compassion, mercy, and inclusion. In our context, this is a call to go beyond tribalism, racism, and nationalism. Especially in our African society, tribalism is an issue that brings about the exclusion of people, putting them in boxes and labeling them as either evil or wicked. All human beings face the temptation to practice exclusion based on race and economic status. The practice of such exclusion is often seen as a way to protect one’s prosperity. However, we are reminded today that exclusion intended to protect prosperity ironically makes true prosperity impossible.

God has given to us the law, and the teaching of Jesus contained in the Scriptures, as a guide for the journey through life in a search for well-being and prosperity. These guidelines help us on the way to eternal life and union with Jesus. However, our earthly prosperity is also important, and it is achieved by making neighbours in this world, through acts of compassion, mercy, and inclusion. As the saying goes, “a good deed will make a good neighbour.”

Proverb

“A good deed will make a good neighbour.”

Action

Self-examination

How often do I remember that any of the success I enjoy in life is a gift from God?

Do I make others prosper? In what way?

Response to God

I will make a regular examination of conscience at the end of the day with particular attention to the ways in which I have been blessed and made to prosper by God’s grace and gifts.

Response to your World

In the course of this week, I will show appreciation to those around me and help them where possible to grow in their giftedness and thus make them prosper in it.

As a group, during our prayer session, we will make a cup from paper and each of us will put in it the name of a person or persons whom we have somehow blocked or prevented from achieving success. We will ask for their forgiveness and ask God’s blessings on them.

Prayer

God our Heavenly Father, we thank you for your concern for our material and spiritual prosperity. We thank you for showing us the way to lasting prosperity through your commandments. Help us to live by them, and grant us the grace to help others also to live by them, so that together, as your loving children, we may reach eternal life with you. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.

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