Gospel then: An essential part of Christ’s mission was to teach the human heart to be more human. In the words of the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, “Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself.” In today’s Gospel, he teaches us how to be a neighbor to our neighbor, with compassion and mercy.
Gospel now: The Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges our preconceived paradigms of human justice. It spurs us on to love our enemy as our neighbor and not succumb to the legalistic mentality of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” As God causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust, so he came as the Redeemer of mankind to extend his mercy and compassion toward all of us. Through his example he teaches and encourages us to do the same.
“Do this and you shall live.” Jesus’ Socratic approach guides the scholar of the law to elicit the answer to his own question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In doing so, he also reveals that the law of God is written on the human heart. To love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves is not just a legalistic formula to attain eternal bliss. It is to live in conformity with the way our hearts are formed. Christ educates the human heart with his parable of the Good Samaritan to teach us what it means to be a neighbor to our neighbor.
And who is my neighbor? The scholar asks this question to justify himself. Jesus takes it as an opportunity to teach that if we probe our hearts, we already know the answer to this question. Moreover, he shows to what extent one should go in loving one’s neighbor – our love should be limitless and unconditional, like his.
We hear stories of Good Samaritans all the time. Last month, a man risked his life to save a three-year-old girl from a flood in Rockmart, GA. The girl was saved; unfortunately, Mike Paterson, the man who dove in to save her, was severely paralyzed and ultimately did not survive his injuries. Mike Paterson gave his life to save the life of a stranger’s child. Examining your own heart, would you not have risked your own health to do the same?
Everyone values heroism, but we seldom find ourselves in the position to be a hero. Still, there are countless opportunities to lift up our brother and sister every day of our lives. Charitable giving and volunteer work are a clear example. Practicing patience in traffic and with our family members and coworkers is another way to exercise the virtues of a Good Samaritan. Simply offering a smile or a kind word to a stranger is an excellent way to imitate Jesus’ example of Charity. We don’t have to wait for dire circumstances to be a neighbor to our neighbor.