11 Sep 2016
“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’” (Luke 10:36) In the name …
Today is the 110th anniversary of the Feast of Brotherly Love. When you reach these kinds of milestones, there is a certain amount of admiration that goes along with age, but on the other hand, there’s also a certain amount of indifference. We get used to it. Like we’re in the final stretch of the Presidential election, thank God. We’ve been electing our Presidents peacefully since 1788 and of this we should be proud as Americans, but we all know that there’s a lot of us Americans who will not vote. Voting is admired and at the same time it’s taken for granted.
Now last Sunday Steve Damon spoke to us at the beginning of Mass about the CROP Hunger Walk, and in doing so he read from our bulletin about this unique feast day of our church. This 110th celebration of Brotherly Love is the first celebration that Steve has ever encountered. He’s impressed by our choosing to emphasize this aspect of what it means to be a Christian, and that as a denomination we would do so formally for all these years. And hopefully his first-time reaction can remind those of us who may have grown accustomed to this feast day and all that it stands for to be inspired again by its message and its call to action.
Ellen Skroski shared on op-ed piece with me that ran in last weekend’s New York Times. Its title is “What Religion Would Jesus Belong To?”. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/opinion/sunday/what-religion-would-jesus-belong-to.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0) The gist of the article is that “religions often don’t resemble their founders.” Over the centuries and then millennia, they become more and more bureaucratic and protective of themselves, while at the same time, their founders were visionaries who challenged the establishment, who weren’t as concerned about preserving institutions as they were about changing people and society. Jesus came to change us and the world. He came to turn it upside down. He wanted to turn attention and aspiration away from wealth and power, and toward helping the sick and the poor. He condemned pride and honoured humility. He tried to tear down barriers that separated people so that we could see what we held in common.
This may be summarized in no better fashion than in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. For practical and religious reasons, a priest and a Levite walk past the stranger who was robbed and left to die on the side of the road, but Jesus spends no time on why they walked past. What commands His attention is what the Samaritan did. Jesus spends no time on why the Samaritan stopped and helped; Jesus concentrates only on that he did. Then Jesus asks the question of the lawyer who was testing Him, and that question makes its way into today’s parable because it’s being asked of all of us too: “‘Which of these three do you think was neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’” The answer to that question lies in how each of the three acted.
Jesus is making clear to us that it is what we do that matters most. And think back to the question that this answers. The lawyer begins this conversation by asking Jesus, “‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Jesus doesn’t ignore the spiritual and the theological aspects of righteousness and salvation. Jesus’ first question of the lawyer is to ask him what is written in the law. And the lawyer answers with the Two Commandments of Love: love God completely and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus commends the lawyer and tells him, “Do this.” Again, the emphasis is upon what we do. But the lawyer gets all caught up in legalese and misses Jesus’ point. He wants definitions. He wants what “must” be done. He’s looking for possible loopholes to use in God’s court. So Jesus tries to steer him the other way, away from playing with words and definitions, and toward what we do. And Jesus makes it as clear as possible: be the Good Samaritan. When we act like the Good Samaritan, then obviously we love our neighbour, but surprisingly Jesus counts this as also loving God completely. At this point, Jesus could well have delved into a long parable about the nature of God, but instead Jesus offers one of His longest parables, and it’s about what we do for each other.
Jesus is blatantly unconcerned about the fact that the Samaritan is not a Jew, that he worships incorrectly at the wrong temple, with the wrong priesthood, with the wrong theology. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “unconcerned.” Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s not so important what we call ourselves, where we worship or what we believe, as long as we do Brotherly Love.
The next question in a lot of our minds, I imagine, is then why church and worship? Why come and sit here and listen to words? First of all because Jesus begins with the Two Commandments of Love, the first of which is love God completely. To me this means that we should be a church that makes the loving God present in our lives and of those around us. Remember the other reading this morning. John says that fear and love cannot cohabitate. Our church does not preach a fearful God, a God of hell and damnation. The only reason we preach for coming to Christ is because Christ is worth it, not out of fear of what not-coming to Christ will entail. And it is this theology of a loving God that has led us for 110 years to emphasize Brotherly Love. And it is Brotherly Love that inspires us to tie-in with projects such as the CROP Walk so that we can help people of whose faith does not matter, whose theology does not matter, whose race and nationality do not matter, because all that matters, just like in today’s Gospel parable, is that we are striving to help another person in desperate need. And even the New York Times points-out that “religious Americans donate far more to charity and volunteer more than secular Americans do.” What we sit here and listen to makes a difference in what we do. So may this feast day continue to inspire us and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo