15th Sunday Year C - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2007

The scribe asked: Who is my neighbour? and Jesus did not answer him directly. I think it was because Jesus couldn’t relate to the world-view behind the scribe’s question. The question assumed some things that Jesus simply did not hold with.

A bit like the question: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If you’ve never beaten your wife, you can’t give a direct answer to the question. Given the context in which the scribe asked his question, it meant: Who is my neighbour, so that I can love him or her? and assumed that there were other people, not his neighbours, whom he need not love at all. Jesus did not share that assumption.

The scribe was “up in his head” for a start. He wanted to discuss, to debate. He wanted to clarify the law. He lived in a world governed by “shoulds”.

But is loving a matter of “shoulds”? It seems to me that I can’t love because I should. If I’m doing what I’m doing because I should, I’m not really loving. I might be trying to love, and acting as if I love - but, really, I am not loving.

I love - because I want to. I love - because I can. I love - because I freely choose to. But, in a sense, I don’t love because of a reason, much less an obligation.

Certainly acting as if I love is better than not acting at all, or acting aggressively. It might be good training; it might help to domesticate and socialise me - but I’m kidding myself if I think that I am genuinely loving.

I think that if we believe we’re loved, if we trust we’re loved, if we accept being loved – unconditionally, we find ourselves drawn into a dynamic. We find ourselves wanting to love. We find ourselves able to love. It can be a struggle because being loved comes at a price – the price of surrendering control, and loving, too, has its price – because my selfishness doesn’t die easily to itself. But slowly the iceberg begins to melt.

The scribe’s problem was one of desires – of his deepest, truest desires, and probably he wasn’t in touch with them because he was too much “up in his head”. Perhaps, it was also a problem of imagination. His world view was too constricted, too narrow, too culture-bound. He wasn’t alert to other possibilities, so didn’t bother to go deeper and to discover his deeper desires and capabilities.

I think, too, that, to the extent that we believe and trust that God loves us, as we begin to accept that and to let it be - even to allow ourselves to get lost in the mystery of it all - we get drawn into the dynamic flow of God’s love and begin to find ourselves loving as God does. In line with what Jesus talked about, we begin to want to love even our enemies. Our horizons expand and lift, our imaginations begin to take fire – and we come to identify anyone who crosses our path or who comes within our radar, as our neighbour. We don’t exclude anyone.

Jesus’ way of answering the scribe was to tell the story of the merciful Samaritan – a story that was unexpected and different, that would have surprised and perhaps even shocked the scribe. As with so many of Jesus’ stories and parables, he hoped to set free the scribe’s imagination, to get him out of his head, to get him thinking outside the square – in the hope that he might open himself to possibilities that had never dawned on him before, and, in the process, begin to suspect what life to the full might be like.