15th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 10:25-37

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.

Homily 2 - 2013

Go and do the same yourself!  Go and treat people as a neighbour, as a person.  

What people? That was the lawyer’s concern: Who is my neighbour? Who are the persons to be treated like myself? And who are nuisances, threats, strangers, or enemies to be ignored, or opposed or somehow controlled? For Jesus the issue was academic, irrelevant: Simply, Go and do the same yourself! Relate as person to person, to whoever in some way engages with you, makes a claim on you, comes within your radar – announced or unannounced, invited or uninvited, planned or unplanned.  I find the whole thing quite challenging, after close on eighty years.

Do asylum seekers qualify as neighbours, as Jesus sees it?

Are you up with the latest with Pope Francis? The secular media have generally been fairly silent on the matter.  But just last week, he took a trip down to an Italian island named Lampedusa, only about a hundred kilometers from the North African coast, and a favourite landing spot for African refugees seeking asylum in Europe.  Over the last twenty-five years or so, about twenty thousand boat people have lost their lives at sea, trying to get there.  Lampedusa is a bit like our Christmas Island.

Before saying a word, the Pope cast a wreath of flowers out on to the waters as a sign of respect for the lives of those twenty thousand desperate people drowned at sea.  Then he celebrated an outdoor Mass there, on an altar built over a small overturned boat, using a chalice carved from the wood of one of those wrecked boats, and preached from a lectern that had a ship’s wheel mounted on the front of it.  He used the prayers from the Mass for the Forgiveness of Sins, not the sins of those who were drowned but for those who did nothing.

In his homily he asked, "Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? All of us respond: 'It wasn't me.  I have nothing to do with it.  It was others, certainly not me.'  Today no one feels responsible for this," he said.  "We have lost a sense of fraternal responsibility" and are acting like those in the Gospel who saw the man who had been beaten, robbed and left on the road half dead, but they kept walking.  "Maybe we think, 'Oh, poor soul,' but we continue on our way," the pope said.

"The culture of well-being, which leads us to think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of others," Pope Francis said.   "Who among us has wept" for the immigrants, for the dangers they faced, and for the thousands who died at sea, the pope asked.  "The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep."  "Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies like this," Pope Francis said.  Explaining why he chose a penitential liturgy, the pope said, "We ask forgiveness for our indifference toward so many brothers and sisters" and for the ways in which well-being has "anesthetized our hearts."

How can I see the other as a person? A good starting point is with myself.  I think that I need to learn to be at peace with myself if I am ever to see another as a person and treat them as a person.  Can I accept myself as the person that I am, not the one I should be, am trying to be, would be if, may be one day ... but just as I am, now? I believe that I need to make peace with myself – far from perfect, but nevertheless with a real dignity, even loved, certainly by God, even by a few others – but needing to be loved by myself, first of all.  I believe that I need to be gentle with myself as I am now, to hold back that vague but ever present conditional acceptance of myself, if I am ever to learn to do the same to others.

Across my life, this has turned out to be a surprisingly big and on-going task.  But somehow I want to learn how to Go and do likewise.

 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. 

Homily 4 - 2019

We have heard the story before. But, I hope, we have all matured somewhat since we last heard it, even if it was only three years ago. And if we have matured, we can hear it differently. As I listen to today’s Gospel passage, the question running through my mind is the eminently practical and pertinent question asked by Jesus, “Who proved to be a neighbour to the one who fell into the brigands’ hands?”

I have been thinking of late of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. It is just six years since Pope Francis flew down to the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea and offered Mass there for all the asylum seekers who had drowned at sea trying to make their way from the North African coast to Europe, via Italy. His gesture aroused considerable publicity and threw the light of the world’s media onto the plight of Refugees generally.

If we in Australia were to ask Jesus today, “Who is my neighbor?” might he tell a story not about a beaten-up traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho but about Asylum Seekers who attempted to get by boat to Australia, were intercepted and detained on Nauru or Manus Island?

Might Jesus now be looking into the eyes of each of us and asking, “Who proved to be neighbour to the refugees knocking on Australia’s doors.” For Jesus, acting in a neighbourly way is not a matter of post-graduate, but of elementary, Christianity – inextricably bound up with the basic need to love God. If we truly love God, we shall find that our horizons open out. If we do not do so already, we could well find ourselves in time also loving refugees.

In light of the results of the recent Federal Election where the issue of refugees hardly surfaced, we seem to be heading into a rather severe moral winter. We can now expect little positive leadership from politicians and their public servants, or even little interest from the Australian public. Sadly, disengagement from the plight of refugees is not just local. It seems to be worldwide. And if world leaders persist in seeing war as the default solution to international arguments, the flood of refugees will only increase.

Realistically, in a generalised climate of forgotten values and virtue, we can anticipate a period of severe frosts and chilling winds, fogs and mists – taking shape in the continuing thrust to de-humanise and de-personalise real desperate, traumatised but hope-filled persons and to reduce them to statistics, problems and threats by unthinking, oft-repeated and destructively emotive labels such as “illegals”, “queue-jumpers”, potential “threats” to our security and to our jobs. Personally, we can protect against the frost by persisting in seeing refugees as real persons, and help the fog to lift by using the time to inform ourselves about what is really going on.

Winter is the time when natural things silently put down roots. We, too, will need to go deep, to draw life from an ever-closer personal relationship with Jesus to keep ourselves inspired, motivated and in touch with his vision of the dignity of every human person and, as we heard in the gospel today, to prioritise the value of practical mercy and compassion in order to make our world a home worth living in.

In the meantime, we patiently await the spring. Change will take time. We are in it for the long haul. There are no easy solutions. The struggle will be to keep our compassion and our hope alive. In the generally dispiriting mood of the present, at a time of pervasive and enervating “compassion fatigue”, we shall need each other’s support. Preferably, it will help to band together, to join with others who share our concerns, in groups, for example, like Rural Australians for Refugees.

"Who proved to be a neighbour to the one who fell into the brigands’ hands?”