Homily – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Who is my neighbour?

A couple of weeks ago I was driving down Victoria Street in Richmond to meet a friend.  As I got closer to Richmond a young lady, about mid fifties threw herself on the road in front of my car.  I saw her coming and was fairly sure that she was close enough to the curb and I was far enough away that I wouldn’t hit her.  

Most of us want to get on with our lives and wish and pray that each day goes by as smoothly as possible.  We normally have fairly busy and full lives.  We are not looking for interruptions from routine – more so than ever planning and programming is a reality of life.  Imagine the Priest the Levite and the Samaritan as they went about their business on the day of the parable we have just heard.  If they prayed that morning, if they prayed at all before they left for their journey they most likely prayed, “Please God let the day run smoothly, let nothing happen on this day, protect me from harm and bring me safely home.’  And this is a good thing to ask for because the beginning of any good life must involve good self care.  I cannot neglect the first person (myself) or I will be of no use to anyone else.

Then the challenge begins.  Having set out with my plan for the day and a good plan with reasonable and legitimate intentions to travel safely and get my work done, I am confronted with the unexpected and unwanted face of the other.  The Priest and the Levite had other obligations and if they stopped to help the injured man they would have been defiled and unable to complete their work (to touch a corpse would mean defilement for 7 days and that the priest would be unable to serve in the Temple).  They kept going. Did they do the wrong thing?  Not a straightforward answer?

The crunch comes when the Samaritan arrives.  The text tells us that the Priest saw him.  It tells us that the Levite saw him.  It tells us that the Samaritan traveller was moved with compassion when he saw him.  According to the theologian Roger Burggraeve this is the moment on which the parable hinges.  The moment of the pause.  It is the moment of the recognition of the face of the other – the face which is interrupting my day; which is unwanted; which is presumably not a pretty sight.  This (according to the French philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, is the beginning of ethics).  I can, in fact, do nothing.  I can legitimately justify that I have other obligations and move on.  What do I do in the pause?  This parable is not telling us what we should do.  It is a call to stop and see the other.  The Samaritan must have scratched his head.  What can I do?  I have a mule, and a first aid kit.  He used the first aid kit and then took him to an inn on his mule.  He did what he could and he handed him over to someone else to do what they could do.  He didn’t ignore the other – and he didn’t let the need of the other obliterate his own life’s plan.  He did what he could and handed him over to someone else to do what they could do.  Here is a start – I have a couple of denari (cash), he thought.  I have other obligations now but I will come back and see how things are going.

So the second person (the other) is important too (but not to the detriment of the first person).  At times Christianity has presented a picture that I must do everything possible even to the point of neglecting myself.  The Samaritan goes out of his way yes – but he is creative in doing what he can do for as long as he can do it and then letting others do their bit.

I did stop.  The women was unharmed.  I waited with her until a police and ambulance service arrived.  I sat and spoke with her and then I handed her over to the others.  I don’t know what happened after that. 

Let’s pray this week that we can catch ourselves in the pauses when we are confronted with the other.  Let’s pray for the grace to make a difference in some way – even if it is as small as a charitable thought about someone who is different from us.  We won’t be able to do it all but we might be able to do something.

By Fr Brendan Reed




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Tony Santospirito

I like your phrase: The moment of the pause. The message to me is that we need to be open to others as we go about our busy affairs so that we are able to recognise an unexpected need and give ourselves time to see what to do to help resolve it

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