To test Jesus, a “scholar of the law’’ asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus threw the question back to him by asking him, “What is written in the law? How do you interpret it?” The scholar answered by quoting two famous passages from the Hebrew Scripture. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind. (Deuteronomy 6:5), and your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18b)
This shrewd lawyer understood quite well the meaning of these two commandments. He knew that just about everybody could agree with the first commandment: love God. There’s nothing that’s contentious about it. Everybody could say that they love God. The extent of that love could vary but the basic command to love God would be easy for most people to accept. It was like motherhood and apple pie.
However, the second commandment was much more challenging for everybody. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The scholar was looking for a fight with this liberal rabbi from Nazareth, and so, he asked Jesus to define a neighbor for him. Luke comments that the scholar asked this to “justify himself.” Jesus decided to engage him. He spun the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus made some major accusations in the parable. The people who walked by the dying man represented various types of people in the scholar’s circle of colleagues, a priest, and Levite, a member of the priestly tribe. These were people who officially said they loved God.
They served in the temple ritual. They put their “love of God” above their love of neighbor. They were on their way to Jerusalem to perform their priestly duties. If they touched this bloody, dying man they would be rendered ritually unclean and would not be permitted to perform their religious duties. So, they left him to die.
Then, the religious outcast came by, the Samaritan. The Jew who was dying on the side of the road was saved by a heretic and cultural enemy who overlooked his religious and cultural prejudice.
The moral of the parable was absolutely clear, but Jesus asked the scholar, “Which of the three was neighbor to the robber’s victim?” “The one who treated him with mercy,” came the answer. For the scholar and for anyone who could hear, the parable answered his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Be a Good Samaritan!
I ask you to revisit this passage during your personal prayer time this week. Allow the parable to speak to our contemporary situation. Open your eyes to the cancer of “them and us,” that we Americans are suffering today. Like good Jews and good Samaritans, we can’t talk to each other. We’re committed to our hatred for each other. We refuse to look for common ground for creative and healing dialogue. Instead, we wage war with one another. Our objective is to conquer and dominate the other.
I’ll conclude with a teaching from the apostle John. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20a)
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
This passage is so very important to help us understand what it means for us to be Christians, followers of Christ. Jesus taught us that “the harvest is abundant.” God has done a great deal of work on each one of us. God planted the seed, nurtured it and cared for it until it matured and was ready to be harvested. The Psalm puts it this way: “I thank you Lord, with all my heart…You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works.” (Psalm 139:1, 13-14)
God willed us into being and guided us to maturity, but Jesus acknowledged a glitch. He noted that the harvest, the fruit of God’s labor, stands waiting to be gathered and brought into the kingdom of God. Through God’s labor everyone has been prepared for the kingdom, but we need something more. We need to be invited. That’s where the seventy-two disciples in today’s gospel come in. This is where we come into the story, too.
“So, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Some commentators say that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two so that one would pray while the other preached. Personally, I think we all have to pray, and we all have to preach.
We have to be people of prayer. Jesus often spent the night in prayer before he began a new segment of his mission. Prayer is that si
lent time when we invite the Spirit to speak to our hearts. This is essential to give us insight into the message of Jesus and the courage we’ll need to witness to it. Not pulling any punches, Jesus was clear that the work of harvesting could be difficult and maybe scary. “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”
He also asks that we be simple and honest with our message. Remember, this is a heart to heart ministry. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” We must be single-minded, determined and sincere. The kingdom of God holds the gift we all long for. “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’”
In John’s Gospel, during the last supper, Jesus spoke intimately with his disciples. He said to them, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus was opening the door of the kingdom for them. His gift of peace wasn’t freedom from struggle or danger, however. It was the peace that would remain secure and powerful in their hearts no matter what challenges life would bring them. This is what the laborer is asked to offer, the peace of the kingdom of God.
Today, the gospel is inviting each of us to work to bring in the harvest. God has already planted the seed throughout the world. Let’s pray to the Spirit for the gift of peace so that we can we can begin the ministry we’ve been called to. From deep within our hearts let’s proclaim the kingdom of God. Let’s be brave. Let’s say, “Peace be to this household.”
Don’t turn back! That’s the message in the scriptures this week-end. We begin our reflection by looking at a dramatic scene from the first book of Kings.
Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, is about to pass on his prophetic spirit to his disciple, Elisha, who is plowing a field with twelve yoke of oxen. Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders thereby passing on his prophetic power. Elisha accepts the mantle and asks permission to kiss his mother and father goodby. Elijah encourages him to do so. Then, Elisha performs a prophetic act. He slaughters the oxen, cooks their flesh, and offers the food to his workers. By this action, Elisha is offering his entire past as a loving sacrifice to God. He’s completely free now to begin a new life as Elijah’s successor. For Elisha, there’s no turning back.
In the passage from Luke’s gospel we witness a number of people responding to the call of Jesus. One tells Jesus that he’ll follow him anywhere. Jesus gives him some reality therapy by alerting him to the fact that he’s an itinerate preacher. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus calls another person to follow him but receives the reply, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus’ answer to him could not be more direct. “Let the dead bury their dead, but you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Finally, a person tells Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family.” The intensity of Jesus’ response is somewhat shocking. “No one who sets a hand
to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was extraordinary. For three years he taught in synagogues, in people’s homes, along the seashore and on mountain tops. He spent many nights in prayer. Power flowed out of him when he healed people, but he kept healing anyway. His family worried about him making enemies of the religious leaders by frequently, and publicly, breaking the sabbath laws and religious customs. They were right to worry, but they couldn’t stop him.
People often ask me when and how I received “the call.” So many people think that the call to priesthood is extraordinary. My answer to them is always the same. “My ‘call’ wasn’t any more extraordinary than yours.”
Being called by Jesus to follow him takes many extraordinary forms. “Follow me.” Commit all you have to your marriage. “Follow me.” Be a loving, dedicated father. “Follow me.” Be the best mother you can be. “Follow me.” Teach the truth! “Follow me.” Do the best job you can when you fix that leaking pipe. “Follow me.” Be loving, just and compassionate when you enforce the law. “Follow me.” Whatever you do in this life, do it with your whole heart and soul. Don’t be put off by the sacrifices you’ll have to make. Embrace them. We’re Christians. We’ve been chosen and have accepted the call to follow Christ.
We’ll end this reflection with a teaching on Christian life St. Paul directed to the community in Colossae. “Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these, put on love.”
In the bible, numbers very often have a symbolic or mystical meaning. John’s Book of Revelation, for example, makes extensive use of numerology. His numbers are not to be taken literally; they have a deeper meaning. Today, let’s reflect on Luke’s use of numbers in his account of the feeding of the 5,000.
The event takes place after a long day of healing and teaching about the kingdom of God. Evening is coming, and the 12 suggest that the crowd be dismissed so that everyone can go to the towns around this “deserted place” to buy food for themselves. This “deserted place” is reminiscent of the desert of Tsin where God rained down manna upon the people of Israel during their exodus journey. That was the old order, the old time. Jesus challenges them to stay put and to give the people something to eat themselves. The 12 answer that they only have 5 loaves and 2 fish. They are about to experience the new order, the new time, the kingdom of God.
This gathering is marked by the number 12, the symbol of entirety and cosmic order. In the old order people, a group of tribes, were struggling in a “deserted place” and needed God to care for them. The people of the kingdom, however, are a community and have all they need. They have 5 loaves and 2 fish.
5 is symbolic of transformation and illumination. 2 symbolizes harmony. In this meal the people will be fed with an intimate knowledge of God which brings the harmony that only divine healing can bestow. This illumination and harmony spreads to groups of 50 and then to the entire group of 5,000.
But the kingdom of God is not exclusive. Its gates are open to everyone. The entire world is invited to eat in the kingdom of God. 12 baskets are left over after this first meal in the kingdom of God. Food of the kingdom of God awaits, and everyone is invited to this meal.
On this day, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we hear the words of invitation, powerful and clear that invite everyone to this meal in the kingdom of God, “Take and eat. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in memory of me”
Lord Jesus, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to the Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
(Prayer from the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ from the Sacramentary)