15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Deuteronomy is one of the first five books of the Bible, collectively called the Pentateuch, from the Greek word meaning “five.” In terms of impact upon the development of the ancient Hebrew concept of religion, these books were most important. They together comprised the “Torah,” the basic pattern of how true followers of the God of Israel should live.
Central among all these books is the figure of Moses. He speaks to the people in God’s behalf. He calls the people to obey God’s commandments. Authentic obedience, however, is much more than mere lip service, insincere motions or half-hearted gestures. Rather, as Moses insists, again speaking for God, obedience to God’s law reveals a person’s complete dedication to God.
Moses also makes clear to the people that God, while almighty and invisible, and therefore neither human nor bound to the earth, is aware of human lives and is communicating with humans.
The Epistle to the Colossians provides the second reading for this weekend. Originally, it was written to the Christians in Colossae, a relatively important city in the Roman Empire’s northern Mediterranean world. Paul’s wish for the spiritual vitality of these Christians led to the writing of this epistle.
The reading builds on the revelation given centuries earlier by Moses and by other prophets. God is invisible. He is seen, however, and perfectly so, sublimely so, in the Lord Jesus. Jesus rules over all creation and over all creatures. He is the head of the Church. The Church, this community, visible and alive with the very life of the Holy Spirit, was much, much more than a coincidental gathering of persons professing Jesus as Lord. In the Church is the spirit of Jesus. Through Jesus is the way to eternal life.
All this indicates how aware the first Christians were of the Church as the community of believers and dwelling of God.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides a very basic concept of Christian theology. Jesus says that the true disciple must love God above all and love neighbor as self. God is love. Acting with love for others in our hearts is a sign of Christian discipleship, as it is a reflection of God.
Seeking to live by resembling God is not new. Ancient belief among Hebrews, as evidenced in this weekend’s first reading, required believers to live as if they had given mind and heart to God, intent upon living in the pattern of divine love and justice.
This lesson comes in the familiar, and beautiful, story of the Good Samaritan. This story has inspired Christians all through the centuries, yet it is forever fresh.
Jews of the first century AD disdained Samaritans. They regarded Samaritans almost as incapable of anything good, certainly unable to be holy. To present a Samaritan as praiseworthy was revolutionary. By so doing, Jesus clearly taught that faithfulness to God, seen very tangibly, is impossible for no one. The key is complete submission to God.
In a way, Americans at this time are much more alert to, and rejecting of, prejudice. Still, prejudice lives in this country, and perhaps we individually are guilty of prejudice against ourselves.
We all may be Samaritans from time to time, set apart from God by our sin. We may feel outcasts, unworthy of God’s forgiveness. We may despise ourselves. We can return to God.
We shortchange the mercy of God. The story of the Good Samaritan is more than a call to charity and compassion. It is that, but it is a proclamation that each person can be redeemed. Everyone sins, but everyone can reform.
Loving God, and to be with God, are our destiny. We sin, of course, and maybe gravely. God’s mercy, however, sets us again on the right path.
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