Tuesday, July 12, 2016

“…do this, and you will live.”

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
at St. James’, Spanish Place, London
10:30 am - 10 July 2016
Deuteronomy 30: 10-14
Colossians 1: 15-20
Luke 10: 25-37

Permit me to focus on one exchange from today’s Gospel, from the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
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.” (Luke 10: 25-28)

“…do this, and you will live.” There is something to be said for the idea that not much in our world really changes. The conversation just cited, from almost 2000 years ago, could easily have taken place in our day and time. There is a difference in so far as our media tend to drown out the people who ask that ultimate question: “Teacher… what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Even so, the lawyer or scholar of the law who posed the question to Jesus is not unlike those today who ask. Whether they ask the question as he did or not, whether they ask out of a certain skepticism or not, we are still left with the impression that for many in society the Christian life is far from something self-evident, that it must be something obscure or esoteric, something less than straightforward. Make no mistake about it; that impression is wrong: that is not what the faith is about. As profound as our faith is, there is nothing remote or puzzlingly mysterious about it. Although spiritual elders make up part of our tradition, gurus just do not. No, as the first reading says, what the faith requires of us if we would come to God is not a dream quest; rather, it is very near, already in your mouth and in your heart.

Maybe what has changed in 2000 years of history is the general notion of what we mean by common sense, of what we mean by close at hand. One hears all too much from people who promote the notion of tolerance (which is not the same as genuine love of neighbor); they sing the praises of tolerance as if it were a virtue. They are mistaken even if they are many and tend to intimidate those who know better. They would have us bound by the command to political correctness in speech, because of an affirmation of pluralism seen somehow as a value (as if love in the Christian sense did not bind me rather to speak a word of correction when necessary). We know the danger of succumbing to such popular opinions: Pope Benedict was among those who in this context spoke about the tyranny of relativism.

Relativism should be labeled indifferentism, what some of my favorite authors lament as a symptom of a loss of culture or of a need to recover our sure points of reference, our cultural roots. The goal or hope would be that what should be always and everywhere understandable would once again belong to us all. Already back in 1939 people like T.S. Elliot were talking about the need for a shared Christian patrimony, something less than a shared faith, but still a basis which would allow us to talk to each other and enjoy a measure of mutual understanding. However, as important as such is for society, it is not really an appropriate Sunday message. No, in matters of faith, the individual must take precedence; the question of obedience to the law and of what are the great commandments goes to the heart of who I am as a person before God. We will leave the crisis of culture thing to the intellectuals and the classroom.

Real hope of victory exists if we but hold steadfastly to the “Exhortation to Choose Life” which we just heard from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy:
“…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.” (Deut. 30: 10-11).

So speaks the Old Testament. If we were to obey God’s law that would be a mighty step forward, but Christ asks something more of us the baptized. In the New Testament He has placed the accent on the twofold command to love God and neighbor and to do so united to Him in His teaching and witness. We need to understand and confess just who Jesus is for each of us individually and for the sake of the life of the world. We need to hold fast to the God Whom we can see, to the only Son of our Heavenly Father. If we are true to Christ and to Him in His Kingly Supremacy, we need not face alone the burden of the law or the daunting challenge of restoring culture and a common language to society. It is a matter of truth and right order; we are in Christ and therefore not estranged from the world as created and willed by God; in God’s world, rather we are at home. Because of Jesus, we can affirm that the foreign lies elsewhere and not in us:“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” (Col. 1:15) Jesus is simply there and He is ours. Seeing and loving Jesus for Who He is, confessing Him as Lord, is the path to life eternal, the foundation and motor for the call to obey the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It could very well be true what people say about atheism being more militant or aggressive today; I have no doubt that we need to invest more as believers in the study and exercise of apologetics; we need to know our faith better and share it more naturally, especially within the circle of our family and friends. We need better to be able to speak out about the reason for our hope in Christ. Even so, Jesus’ answer to the lawyer, pointing out the obvious to him, is also directive for us.

That is the point, really, of the parable of the Good Samaritan: it is in fact one of the constant pillars of the preaching and teaching of Pope Francis. We are called to draw close to our neighbor and not to pass him by. “…do this, and you will live.”  The notion of tolerance misses the point of what our loving Lord wills for us in this life and beyond. We need to start by spurning the empty darkness, which those without Jesus would propagate in a world rather created by God for eternity in light, life and love. Simple basics, simple catechism, if you have neglected them, go back to them! Turn away from the mantras of those who do not know God living and true. “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.”