15th Sunday Year C - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2016

Who hasn’t heard the story of the Good Samaritan? Yet what real difference has it made to our lives, as individuals, and then as a nation? Could it be that we have never really heard it?  It was basically good people, like ourselves, that Jesus called to conversion. Conversion from what to what? Perhaps, from the simplistic, moralistic, view of the child to the more nuanced, mature and potentially life-changing insight of the adult.

In today’s Gospel, the lawyer’s questions were basically a child’s questions, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Inherit?” This seems to consider eternal life as some sort of legal transaction, or the prize for passing an exam. “What must I do?”, “Anxious to justify himself”. It really does sound like do-it-yourself, try-harder, moralising, that ultimately is little more than religiously disguised self-interest, and really changes no one – not in any radical way. It captures the worldview of children and of adolescents; and is about as inspiring as Aesop’s Fables.

“Who is my neighbor”? carries the unstated corollary, “Who isn’t?” It keeps clear the “us/them” cut-off; setting limits; steering well away from all considerations of inter-personal relationships, and definitely from personal change. Many astute observers think that most people do not grow beyond this underdeveloped adolescent viewpoint.

Jesus’ question is different, “Who proved himself a neighbor to …?” This deals with the kind of persons we are, with personal transformation. This is adult business – movement from doing to being. Eternal life, which the lawyer saw as a matter of inheritance, is essentially a question concerned with being, of who we are and what we are becoming. Life, living, after all, is a human experience, not a religious bank account. The Gospel’s call to conversion contained in today’s parable is about us changing to become more fully human. 

All my life I have been struggling to do precisely this. My spontaneous attitude to people is so often an unrecognised competitiveness, even hostility. Instinctively, I see people as threats to my comfort-zone. Without thinking, I sum them up, critique them. Yet I know in my bones, whenever I take time to get in touch with my true self that, at my best, I really would love to be at home with everybody and to be free enough and at peace to see everyone as my neighbour. It would be wonderful.

The longing is there. And that is no surprise. We have been created to be radically at home with anyone, with everyone. As the Scriptures insist, the creating God is a God who loves the world and everyone in it. We were all created in the image of that God. More than that, through our baptism we have been even more deeply configured to the risen Christ. He is the one sent by God to love the world and to save it, this world and everyone in it, from the mess that we make of each other through our hostility and violence. In the face of sinful humanity’s corporate responsibility in killing him, he proceeded to gift us with undiscriminating, unconditional, unqualified forgiveness. That is the Christ to whom we have been configured. He is the template of our truest, deepest self. We are made to love the world as he does.

How can I free up to love? It begins by simply being still for long enough to allow myself to quieten down and to begin to notice what is going on inside me. That enables me gradually to get in touch with my truer self, and to let go of those accumulated concerns and habits and assumptions, and particularly my need to control, that I have got so used to and feel reluctant, or afraid, or unable, to surrender – and yet do not need. 

This is the conversion to which Jesus summons us all, and for which he continues to motivate, empower, challenge and support us.  It is good news, and stays good news; and rather than growing stale, it becomes more and more exciting and enjoyable the more we experience it.