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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

What does God want of us?  It sounds like a daunting question, but it’s really not.  All of the 10 Commandments, all of the Mosaic Law, all of the teachings of Jesus, come down to just two things:  Love God.  Love you neighbor.  But to quote the Lord from Exodus, we are a “stiff necked people.”  Our readings this week remind us that loving our neighbor is our ticket to salvation.

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 or 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

Our first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy.  This is the book that most scholars believe was presented by King Josiah during the 7th century BCE in his attempts to reform the people back to the Lord.  In this passage, we hear Moses telling the people of Israel that God’s wishes for his people are not some remote or inaccessible dream, but are instead quite obvious… Love your neighbor.  Moses reminds us that we know this already, in our minds and in our hearts.  We just need to carry it out.

The lectionary gives us an option for the Psalm this Sunday, but whether we sing “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.” or if we sing “Your word, Lord, are Spirit and life,” the message is the same… in God we find life.  Life that is ours for the taking, so long as we can find it in ourselves to follow God’s command and love our neighbor.

Our Gospel from Luke continues this theme.  Here our passage has a “scholar of the Law” questioning Jesus about what it takes to inherit eternal life.  True to form, Jesus turns the question back to the scholar, who answers, in short, to love God, and to love your neighbor.  But this “scholar of the Law” is the equivalent of a modern day lawyer, and we all know that any good lawyer not only knows what’s in the law, but what’s not in the law.  So this scholar poses the question to Jesus, “who is my neighbor?”  Jesus then give us the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a well known story unique to Luke’s Gospel.  A man is robbed and beaten on the highway and left for dead.  Both a priest and a Levite (both obviously Jewish) go to some effort to avoid the obviously injured man, but a Samaritan (a non-Jew) sees the man and helps him.  At the conclusion of the story Jesus asks the scholar who it was that was a good neighbor to the man on the road.  The answer is obvious, and instructs him, instructs us, to do likewise.

Our second reading begins a four week study of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and actually serves as a nice complement to our other readings.  Here the new Church was struggling with Jesus' role within the cosmos (not surprising given the pagan practices of this region in the heart of modern day Turkey), which in Paul’s mind was keeping them from the real work of the Gospel:  to love one another.  In this introductory excerpt, Paul addresses these issues up front in an effort to put them to rest… quite simply, that Jesus is at the center of everything.  From there, he is now free to explore what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ.

Final thoughts:
Who is my neighbor?  The scholar of the Law was trying to test Jesus by exploiting what he thought was a loop-hole in the Law.  In other words, if you’re not my “neighbor” then I don’t owe you anything.  Jesus, rightly taught us otherwise, but we, like this scholar, seem to consistently want to narrow our definition of who is “my neighbor.”  A “neighbor,” after all, is someone who’s “close” to us.  Someone who lives near us, someone who looks like us, shares our beliefs and customs.  It’s this narrow view of “neighbor” that allows us to discriminate, to marginalize, and to avoid.  But Jesus, through this parable, teaches that we are all neighbors, differences and all.  That we owe a duty to those who are different from us.  That those neighbors are also God’s creation and deserving of the same love that we would grant to those who are closer to us.  In a nation and a world that seems more divided than ever, it would do us well to remember this parable and live as the Lord has taught us… difficult though that may be, but it will lead us to salvation.


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