For those of us who like to watch the foreign language news broadcasts it is amazing to see the bravery of individuals of both sexes, all ages and cultures, all religions and walks of life. Yesterday I was watching some Chinese workers rescuing a workmate from a flooded drain at serious danger to their own lives. Then a teenager in France carries a whole family from a burning house, and an old woman comes to the rescue of another woman being mugged by youths in the Philippines. There was a young man on Australian news recently cited for an act of bravery who, when they called him a hero, simply said, ‘I did what I had to; anyone would have done the same.’
Trouble is, not everyone would have done the same. Although bravery and self-sacrifice are everywhere, so are their opposites, the people who just walk on by and turn their eyes away from their neighbour in need.
Moses stresses that the law of love is not outside ourselves but in our heart. This is really a profound insight.
Both the priest and the Levite in today's Gospel passed by on the other side of the road leaving the poor man for dead, like the robbers who attacked him. What was their reason for doing so? Was it their attachment to the laws of ritual purity, which boils down to a fear of getting our hands dirty? Was it busyness? Was it just reluctance to become involved in someone else’s life? Whatever it was it was a consideration external to the needs of the half dead man, a consideration which strangled love for neighbour.
The lawyer, anxious to justify himself to Jesus, typically asks for a definition of the word neighbour. He has again placed love outside the consideration of the heart. It’s almost like he was saying ‘Tell me who I don’t have to love.’
Only love can tell us who our neighbour is. Jesus’ parable neatly pushes aside the academic question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ in favour of a new concept, that of proving ourselves a neighbour to someone. It is this kind of personal, interior, heart-love for others which alone can stir in us the compassion of the Good Samaritan for his stricken fellow human being.
The Samaritan needed no definitions – he knew – instinctively: Everyone is my neighbour! He knew the truth of what St Paul says: In him were created all things.
We are all children of the one God, all made by him, and all held in unity by him. The love which Jesus has for us, the love which caused him to make us, the Church, into his own body, is the same love he shares with the Father. This is the love to which we are all called. We must love all as he loves all.
If, therefore, there is nothing and no one outside God’s love, how can we even dare suggest there is someone outside our love, someone who is not our neighbour?
The walls of this church building hold us in a kind of unity or togetherness tonight but they are external to us. We should be held together by something much more, much stronger - the love within our hearts. As St Peter says: You have been obedient to the truth and purified your souls until you can love like brothers, in sincerity; let your love for each other be real and from the heart. (1Peter 1:22)
Obedience to the truth leads to love for God which purifies our souls until we can love each other. This then makes our love real and from the heart. It is when, and only when, our love is real, in the way St Peter speaks of, that the external signs of love we make towards one another have any value.
So, what are some practical basics for us here today to manifest in a clear way the love we have for one another?
- Give each other simple signs of acceptance, a smile, a nod, a wave.
- Sit together.
- Stay behind after Mass for a chat.
- Offer someone a ride to or from the church.
- Welcome the newcomer or the visitor.