Orbiting Dicta

15th Sunday of the Year: Compassion

Sometimes the readings chosen for the Sunday liturgy at this time of year seem a little haphazard, although careful attention usually reveals important connections. And sometimes they contain surprising applications to our life these many centuries later.

Deut 30:10-14 Col 1:15-20 Luke 10:25-37
The glorious excerpt from the Letter to Colossians, the second reading, is an effective reminder that for the very earliest Christians, Jesus was not merely a historical figure, but our leader and teacher for all times. The passage is most likely from a very early hymn cited to introduce the letter.  It is  remarkably significant for its exalted Christological affirmations.

But the first reading and gospel of the day arrest our attention in a different way. Today’s first reading is taken from near the end of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of the Torah.  It includes part of Moses’ final discourse, which ends with the well-known injunction which continues the passage:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess…
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days,..”[Deut 30:15-6, 19-20].

As with the Book of Leviticus, there is frequent reference in Deuteronomy regarding our duties and obligations to our neighbor, that “near boor” who is our “bower-mate,” originally our fellow countryman.  It is in Leviticus that we find the second greatest commandment: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against any of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” [Lev 19:18]. This verse appears strikingly at this point in the exchange.

But in what is probably the most well-known of all Jesus’ parables, he is about to broaden the notion considerably and, to the ears of some (even today), alarmingly.

“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer, which is to say a scripture scholar, then asks, wishing to “justify himself,” to push the point.  Jesus responds with what is the most well-known of all his parables, the tale of how the despised Samaritan rescued the Jew on his way to Jericho.

I suppose that if we were to ask the same question today, we might hear something like this:

An ICE agent was on his way from Brownsville to Laredo when his car suffered a flat tire.  He was  discovered by a group of drug traffickers who robbed him, beat him, stole his car, and left him on the side of the road, half dead. A priest on his way to say his third mass of the day passed by but was late and kept on moving. Then a Congressman in a luxury sedan passed by because it was hot and he didn’t want to get involved. A little while later, a Mexican immigrant who had sneaked across the border and was making his way north found him there and, moved with pity, gave him what first aid he could and flagged down a passing car. He used his remaining money to pay the driver to take them to the nearest hospital where he made sure the agent was taken care of.

Who is our neighbor today? And who are we?