I’m not sure how many college’s and universities require it anymore, but one of the biggest pains in the neck in the whole application process was trying to write those personal statement essays. That’s where you had to try to describe yourself in a creative, succinct way that would catch the admissions officers attention. It was your opportunity to rattle off your achievements and successes and make your case why you should be able to attend whatever school it was you were applying to. For the life of me, I can’t tell you what it was I came up with. But over 30 years later, I can still remember my brother Craig’s essay. He saw a box of candy I had and used it as a metaphor for himself: Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers. That’s the hard candy ball that, the more you suck on, it would change flavors and colors. So the candy starts out Orange flavor and then the next layer was grape and the layer after that was strawberry. So Craig very cleverly used that to describe himself… That there were many different layers to him and how it took time to get to the core of who he was and was most important. The admissions office at Boston College were impressed. Obviously it was memorable– just seeing that box of candy at the store – triggered this memory for me the other night. And stayed with me when I started looking at this scripture.
Hi everyone. This is my homily for July 14, 2019 – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim. AUDIO . Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
Because the more I thought about it Jesus’ parables are like Gobstoppers too… They are such an effective way of teaching because there are so many layers to these stories. This story of the Good Samaritan, is so well known, even those who aren’t regular church-goers have some recollection of the story. A guy gets beaten up. The people you would think would help don’t… this Samaritan guy goes above and beyond what would ever have been expected in that situation and the take home point that we’re left with is that Jesus is asking us to do the same – to go above and beyond what is expected… to be generous and selfless to help those in need.
That’s definitely an important part of Jesus’ message and teaching. That’s the bar he has set for us of how we are to serve one another as a way of truly being His followers. If you’re like me, then you can often come away from that feeling a bit self-conscious. How many times have I heard this message and recognize how often haven’t I gone the extra mile (too many times to recount). Maybe I’m not as good at following Jesus as I thought I was or should be… Some of that self-reflection is a good thing. I need to do an examination of conscience and reflect on things I’ve done or haven’t done that haven’t been in line with Jesus’ expectations of His disciples. Before we allow “Catholic guilt” to run amuck and forget that Mass isn’t meant to beat us up and that the Gospel is meant to be Good News – there’s deeper levels to this Gospel to reflect on.
There’s a historical layer that gives a lot more color and texture to the story: Jews and Samaritans hated each other… even though for the most part, Samaritans were Jewish. In a way they were like “feuding cousins” who for century upon century had fought over everything whether it was over how they worshiped, to their relationships with pagan people (Jews forbid any marriage outside of Judaism; Samaritans had inter-faith marriages, so Jews considered and called them “unclean”) It had gotten so bad in the century before Jesus was born, it would have been a toss up for the Jews who they hated more the Romans, the people who had conquered their homeland and occupied or the Samaritans. And that feeling was mutual. The Samaritans despised the Jews for their unfair treatment of them, for destroying Samaritan cities, their capitol, their important sites. By Jesus’ day it had gotten physically violent to the point that a Jew would go through the much more difficult, challenging task of crossing the River Jordan to avoid walking through a Samaritan town in their travels. So you can imagine how this story must have hit Jesus’ original listeners. Here’s this scholar of the Jewish law who is in dialogue with Jesus which triggers this parable. Asking what must I do to inherit eternal life and then the scholar recounts the core of the commandments. Jesus can tell that he has the words memorized, he has the outline down. But he’s missing the heart behind those words as he presses Jesus asking “who is my neighbor?” He’s basically asking – Is salvation only for the Jews? More specifically for faithful, law-abiding Jews? Like him and his friends… So Jesus using this example of a hated Samaritan of being someone who understood the heart of what it means to be neighbor – who simply saw someone in suffering, in need and didn’t ask how much of a sinner they were… didn’t make excuses not to get involved – just saw the need, and responded, lovingly, generously in abundance – breaks the box they (and, truth be told, we sometimes) like to put God into. Jesus’ is trying to get into their heads (and ours) that He has come to save us from sin, from death… to give us fullness of life, to show us the path to eternal life. That’s something that we should be excited about and want everyone to desire, everyone to experience. Yes, Jesus tells him right at the outset – the law, the commandments are good – just like our Catholic responsibilities for Sunday Mass and going to confession are good. But that’s not meant to be a box we check off, or a way of limiting God and His mercy to those who feel separated, who feel distant from God. Jesus’ urgency, Jesus’ desire is quite simply that He wants to save all humanity… and He wants all His followers to share that urgency and desire.
But there’s another layer. Something that is the core of this beautiful story that is meant to be personal and intimate for all of us. One way of praying with scripture is trying to imagine yourself in the Gospel story. Asking who do you see yourself as, who can you relate to in the story? Like I said earlier, I’ve often taken it to heart being the guy Jesus is giving a little bit of a smack down to – recognizing the areas I’ve failed in being selfless and loving as Jesus wants us to be.
But then it hit me – have I ever felt like the one on the side of the road who was broken, defeated, abandoned, alone… Have you? Can you ever think of a time where you felt invisible to the world around you? Convinced that you must have done something so wrong on such a cosmic scale that no one will even acknowledge you let alone help you… Maybe you’ve even felt that God is treating you like that – that He has forgotten you. You’re going through some trial – an illness, a profound loss, some fears that keep you up at night… You’re experiencing some struggle – trying to overcome an addiction, trying to help someone else who doesn’t want or think they need help. There’s no limit to the number of situations that people encounter day in and day out that can sow seeds of doubt and fear, undermine the faith of the deepest of faithful people to think that God is too busy to notice or we’re too insignificant to care about.
If you find yourself thinking that right now… or the next time you do, think about this story… because this Gospel tells us that’s not the case. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Jesus, who is the personification of Mercy – who’s heart shed His blood for Mercy upon the whole world… He knows when we’re feeling like that victim on the side of the road. He’s telling us is that He sees us. He notices us. He goes out of the way to pick us up. He’s telling us it’s because of sins we’ve committed, He wants to heal those wounds. If it’s the evils that others have committed on us that has us beaten down, Jesus wants to lift us up – take us in, and care for us. We just may have to look a bit deeper at how it is that He comes to us, how He meet us in unexpected ways.
A guy I know has a child sick with a very serious illness. And just the whole thing -seeing the little guy hooked up to machines and being poked and prodded had already maxed him out in terms of stress. On top of all that, his company had him traveling out of state for work. Gets to the airport, the flight gets cancelled because of weather. Gets in his car on the way home from the airport and it breaks down – coincidentally right in front of a Church. He was just at his breaking point. He stewed and fumed for 20 minutes, called AAA and yelled at them some more when they told him it would be at least another 45 minutes to an hour before they got to him. He decided to go in to the Church which had Eucharistic Adoration and He was going to let Jesus have it. He had a list a mile long of things he was justifiably ticked off about… But He said when he got in there, he just saw the crucifix above the altar and looked at Jesus on the altar in the Eucharist and just started crying. Saying it just hit him, how could he attack the one who suffered so much… so much for him. He saw and realized Jesus had gone the extra mile, above and beyond in this selfless act of supreme love for him, for his son, for his whole family. And in that exhausting but cathartic cry he finally let go of the anger, the fear, the stress and just put himself in Jesus’ hands. He said he instantly felt relief and saw his perspective shift. This stressful inconvenience of a flight change had him home at a time which turned out to be a time he really needed to be there for his son. That important flight, the stresses with the meeting he needed to be at for work all seemed to get reorganized for him. No – the stresses are far from gone. No, sadly his son and his whole family still have a lot to face. But for this guy he recognizes that Jesus is with Him that Jesus’ goes the extra mile to meet him and to heal him and lift him up. Which strengthened him to be there for his family in a much more attentive, loving way then before.
That’s the heart of this message. Jesus uses this dramatic example of the Good Samaritan to give us another illustration of how he loves us -right here and now. Jesus notices us. He recognizes the burdens, the struggles, the fears we are facing and is trying to love on you and me right now. What boxes have we put on God’s love and mercy in our lives that He’s trying to break out of right now to heal and lift us up? Yes, Jesus ultimately wants us to be of service to others, to follow his example of selflessness, sacrificial love – but we can only do that if we have received it ourselves. May we open our hearts and our lives – especially as we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist to let Him be the Good Samartian to us right now