15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, we hear about a scholar of the Law who wanted to test Jesus.  In other words, this scholar came to Jesus, not because he wanted to know something, but to show off his own knowledge.  Jesus asked the scholar about what is in the Law and the scholar replied correctly: the whole Law is summed up in love.  Love God with all your mind, heart and strength and love your neighbor as yourself and you will be fulfilling the Law.  Then, because the scholar wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In an attempt to justify himself, the scholar reveals the lack of love in his own heart.  He wanted to know precisely whom he was required to love as his neighbor and whom he was not required to love as a neighbor.  It seems that he was placing boundaries on the love that he was willing to show others.  Jesus’ response would have been very shocking to His hearers.  The Jewish people did not like the Samaritans.  They did not use things in common with them, as we hear in another place in the Gospel.  Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans.

The animosity of the Jews towards the Samaritans went back for hundreds of years.  The Samaritans were half-Jewish.  At one point in Israel’s long history, the Kingdom of Israel became divided: there was a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom.  Those in the Southern Kingdom continued to worship God in the Temple at Jerusalem, which is in the South.  The Northern kings set up idols for the people to worship, so that the people would not go to the South and defect from the Northern Kingdom.  Both Kingdoms were eventually conquered, but the Northern Kingdom was conquered about a hundred and thirty five years earlier than the Southern Kingdom.  The Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians, who allowed the people to stay in their land, but forced them to intermarry with pagans.  The Assyrians allowed the Northern Kingdom to continue to worship the Lord but they also demanded that they worship other pagan Gods.  The people of the Northern Kingdom agreed to intermarry and they agreed to worship the gods of the pagans.  The people of the Northern Kingdom are those who became known as Samaritans.  The Jews of Jesus’ day saw the Samaritans as worse than pagans because they continues to worship the Lord, but they mixed the worship of the One, True, God with the worship of false, pagan gods.  The Jews of that day viewed the Samaritan’s worship as blasphemous and offensive and therefore they wanted nothing to do with them.

Then Jesus comes along and tells the parable of the man whom robbers attacked while he was travelling along the road.  A priest passed the man by; a Levite (one who was charged with serving in the Temple in Jerusalem) passed the wounded man by; but a Samaritan traveler came upon the man and treated him with compassion.  Then Jesus told the scholar of the Law to go and do like the Samaritan did in the story, which is to say: treat everyone you meet with love.

Jesus is trying to get the people listening to Him to realize that everyone is our neighbor.  We are to love everyone we meet, as we love ourselves.  There are no special circumstances that excuse me from loving others.  Jesus taught us to love our enemies.  By the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is trying to tell His listeners, and us, that even a five-hundred-year-old grudge is not a reason to fail in love of neighbor.  My brothers and sisters, we are called to love others: and not just those who love us back.  Jesus, Himself, says that if we love those who love us, what merit is there in that?  We are called to love those who give us the most grief; we are called to love those who annoy us; Jesus commands us to love others as we love ourselves.

Loving ourselves is very easy.  It comes naturally.  In fact, we have to be careful not to let our self-love become excessive.  Think, for a moment, about the way that you love yourself; now think about the way that you love others.  Does the love that you bear for others resemble the love that you have for yourself?  The love that we have for ourselves causes us to want to exult ourselves.  Our self-love makes us want to be thought well of by others; we naturally want the best for ourselves.  Do we want the best for others?  Do we want others to be thought well of?  Or do we tear others down by our speech?  Do we step on others so that we can get ahead?  Do we make others look bad so that we can look better and feel better about ourselves?  Jesus Christ calls us to love our neighbor as we love our self and then He tells us that everyone is our neighbor.  No exceptions.  No special circumstances.  You and I are called to love.

Love does not seek the bare minimum requirement.  Love does not try to see how little it can get away with doing for the beloved.  Love pours itself out for the beloved; love completely exhausts itself.  When we deal with ourselves, we do not seek the least amount that we can do; we want good things for ourselves and we want them in abundance.

Do you want to see what true love looks like?  Look at the Crucifix.  That is real love.  That is what real love looks like.  Real love is self-sacrificial.  Real love does not love for the sake of what it can get: real love gives everything that it has to give.  That is the love that we are called to imitate.  Jesus Christ completely poured Himself out for love of you.  Then He told us to love one another, as He has loved us.  That kind of love is not easy.  That kind of love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling.  That love takes effort and it requires the help of God’s grace.  I challenge each one of you to examine your hearts this week.  Think about the ways that you love yourself and compare that to the ways that you love others.  Ask yourself if you love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Let us all ask God to show us how to love as He calls us to love.  Lord Jesus, You command us to love others as we love ourselves.  Enlighten our minds and fill our hearts with Your love.  Help us to love You above all things and help us to love others as ourselves out love for You.  Amen.