You Can Do It! – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Teachers have a frustrating job. Every year they lay out an entire plan for their students to be successful in their class. On the face of it, the plan seems easy: do these assignments, study this material, and do well on the tests. If you do all these things, you will be successful in this class. In addition to laying it all out, the teacher will invariably spend time before and after school helping students master the material. Tutors are made available to students who need extra help. And in spite of all this structure, there will be students who will fail the course. In some cases students will have things happen to them that are beyond their control that leads them to be unsuccessful – an illness, family crisis, or some other calamity. But for others the failure represents a failure at a basic level of putting forth no effort to achieve what on paper seems rather simple.
Moses seems at the point of teacher exasperation with the people of Israel in the first reading. The Law really isn’t that complicated. Its content is not too lofty to understand; its meaning is clear and its application is near us. We have only to put it into effect in our lives. What is more, God will send them help: great leaders of faith, great signs to instill faith within them, and His presence among them in the tabernacle of the ark of the covenant. These aides will be with Israel for generations, and yet time and again the people fail to follow the Law. Is it any wonder Moses gets frustrated time and again with his own people?
The reason the Law is so difficult for the people to follow is found in today’s Gospel text. A teacher of the law asks Jesus what is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven. The answer is simple. The entire law is summarized in two sentences: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, with all your mind, and with all your soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. Jesus affirms this answer, stating that if we do this we will live. It seems quite simple. And yet it becomes hard when the lawyer asks a question – who is my neighbor? It is the legalism of our minds and systems that looks to complicate that which is simple.
Jesus’ reply to the lawyer’s question is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, the lesson being of course that everyone is our neighbor, even – no, especially – our enemy. But we knew this already. Jesus had taught it to us in the Sermon on the Mount. And yet we saw the disciples ask Jesus if they should call down fire upon the Samaritan village that rejected them. Apparently we are no better than the ancient Israelites when it comes to living the Law as we ought. We need not belabor the point in citing event after event in the history of the Church where we continually sought not to forgive and love our enemy but rather to execute and wage war upon him.
And yet each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded that Jesus lived the Law of love perfectly. He died for His enemies after first forgiving them. He commanded us to put aside the sword, and He commands us to follow Him in living the Law of love. We can do it. We have every help available to us: the teaching and example of Jesus, sacramental celebrations where we remember in a tangible way how Jesus lived this Law and where grace is made available to us in order to live it ourselves. The time has come to put aside our legalistic distinctions, mental reservations, just war theories, and all other excuses for not living as we are commanded to live, for not loving as we are commanded to love.
The renewal of the Church will not come through some parish program, nor in some insistence upon orthodoxy, nor from any further tinkering with the liturgy. Important as these things may be, they are no substitute for authentic Christian living by each and every one of us. We may have great attendance at parish programs. We may have orthodoxy reinforced to the hilt. We may tinker with the liturgy to the very last genuflection. But if they do not produce people living the Law of the Gospel, the Law of Love, we have made ourselves very busy with the wrong emphases. Programs, teaching, and liturgy are means to an end, not ends in themselves. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a sober reminder of this fact.
As we look to follow the Lord Jesus along the way of love, we come together at Mass to be nourished and reminded once again in the Eucharistic action the life we must live. “Let us pray to be faithful to the light we have received, to the name we bear. Father, let the light of your truth guide us to your kingdom through a world filled with lights contrary to your own. Christian is the name and the gospel we glory in. May your love make us what you have called us to be. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”