Opening of School of Christian Living
8 Sep 2013
“If anyone says, I love God,’ but hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For whoever does not love a brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) In the name …
Last Sunday on our way back home from dropping Kristin off at college, we stopped at Kimball Farms in Lancaster, MA. Their ice cream is famously good, and their portions are famously large. A small is huge. A kiddie is still more than enough. This is smart business psychology. All of us who are beyond the age of the young people sitting down here should not be eating large-portion desserts. Our bodies can’t process those calories like these kids can. But a person can go up to the counter and order a small dish of ice cream, get their fill and still feel good about the fact that they only ordered a small. We let ourselves be fooled that this really is a small because we want to be fooled that it is a small.
Let’s make sure we don’t let this happen with our faith. Let’s not call faith what we want to merely pass as faith. In the very strong words of today’s Epistle, let’s not be liars. Let’s face-up to the revealed truth that religion involves our relationship with God and just as importantly our relationships with each other. This is why Jesus gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man comes up to Jesus in today’s Gospel and asks, “‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25) There is no more self-centered question than this one. It’s not concerned about the god granting eternal life. It’s not concerned about anyone else’s fate. The question is only about how do I save myself. And boy is he going to wish he didn’t ask this question of Jesus because Jesus is going to give him the exact opposite answer from what he is expecting. The man is only concerned about himself, but Jesus is going to tell him a parable about heaven that involves complete and utter selflessness. And we have to try and not water down that message into something we would rather hear instead. The Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ longest parables. He gives an unusual amount of attention to this story. And if Jesus thinks it’s this important we should to.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a dangerous one, and the plight of the robbed and brutalized stranger makes this absolutely clear. So when the priest and the Levite pass by alone, their lives are in just as much danger as the man beaten-up and thrown to the side of the road. It’s not the religious law that is necessarily preventing them from helping the stranger. It’s the fear that the same thing could happen to them if they linger. Every one of us knows it’s dangerous to stop on a deserted road to help someone in need. If we’re all alone, we could easily be victimized ourselves. The fear that the priest and the Levite experience as they pass by on the other side is all too real an emotion for each of us here. We know what they felt. And if we do, so did everyone else in Jesus’ audience.
Therefore, when the Good Samaritan stops to help, his concern for the stranger is completely selfless, and Jesus holds-up his example as the answer to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus finishes by saying, “‘Go and do likewise,’” (10:37) the guy who asked the question is in a real quandary. He wants to do only what he has to do, what he must do, but Jesus is trying to tell him it’s not about rules, it’s about heart, about life, about everyday, ordinary choices. And still today too many religious people talk a lot about heaven and not enough about the Good Samaritan’s selflessness. And this is why we celebrate the Feast of Brotherly Love every year.
This unique liturgical creation of the lay and clergy members of the Special Synod of 1906 celebrates one of Christianity’s greatest revelations. For Jesus brotherly love is not an addendum to faith. It’s at the center of faith. It gives expression to a real belief and trust in God. It is Jesus’ lived teaching that we worship God not only when we formally invoke His name like now at Mass, but also when we respect and care about all others in the way we choose to live our lives. There was a powerful scene in Jesus Christ Superstar that we watched at the Youth Retreat where Jesus was overwhelmed by all of sick and handicapped people who desperately needed His healing touch and He lashes out in frustration. It was too much for Him to handle. We’re not accustomed to think about Jesus in this way, but there seems to be merit in the message that Jesus needs our help because there are so many who are helpless. This is why we celebrate Brotherly Love every year.
And religion also needs brotherly love to remain sane. Otherwise, religion becomes separated from real life. Religion can then profess all sorts of extremes about God that any sane person can recognize as insane, but at the same time a religion without brotherly love is not at all bothered by the basic needs of people, people that the Bible tells us today are just as important to religion as theology, worship and liturgy. This is one of the reasons why we call our program of Christian education the School of Christian Living. We’re not just indoctrinating our children with what we think is the only right way to think about God. We’re hoping to share with them the tools of Christian living. The teachers may not like it, but I’m going to help you guys by letting a couple of Sunday School questions out of the bag. Ready? Who’s the straightest man in the Bible? Joseph – because Pharoah made him a ruler. Or after all of the high-scoring Red Sox games this past week I could ask: When is baseball first mentioned in the Bible? In Genesis 1:1 where it says, “In the big inning ..” But if these young people leave our SOCL program more conscious of Christian living, about showing brotherly love, then all of the theology about God and heaven will fall into place naturally, and they won’t need that extra help I just gave them.
Let us all pray for the selflessness that springs from our faith in Jesus for in this way we will make a difference here and now and then later we can trust in the promise of heaven. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo