July 19, 2019

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

After the first couple of lines of our Gospel passage for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 10:25-37), our spontaneous reaction might be: “Oh, yes! I know this story very well.”

This unwise reaction would keep these familiar words of life from entering our heart and bearing the desired fruit. Therefore it seems necessary to strip down to its essentials this, arguably, the best known parable of the whole gospel. This bold action is needed so that we might be left with no wiggling room as we face the very hard choices that are proposed to us.

Our wiggling room is already reduced by our second reading (Colossians 1:15-20), as it concurs with Romans 13: 9 and Galatians 5:14, that all the laws and all the prophets are condensed in the second commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself.” The scholar of the law senses that the second commandment is the problematic one, the one that forces us to make the hardest choices in life.

This passage from Colossians walks us through what God did as He noticed our helpless situation; how He drew close to us; how He became our neighbor. Our spiritual wiggling room disappears as, with the scholar of the law, we too begin to realize that eternal life depends on our willingness to become neighbor to our God disguised by the features of any of our brothers and sisters in dire need.

We could fool ourselves egregiously if we insist on thinking that we love God; that the first commandment is the most important one for us. This delusion could go on and on for years on end simply because there is no concrete way of measuring our love for God vertically, while Jesus has given us plenty of ways to measure our love for God horizontally, i.e. by deliberately and lovingly becoming neighbor to others in their need.

With no wiggling room left, each one of us is forced to admit that eternal life hangs in this balance as we wonder: “how much am I willing to inconvenience myself to become neighbor, i.e., to draw close to those who, in their need, clamor for my intervention?” Or, to put it differently: “What value must I assign to my brother or sister in need before I overcome my excuses, my reluctance and my inconvenience to draw close to them?”

To make us even more uncomfortable, as past missed opportunities resurface in our mind, we notice how Jesus teaches that there are no excuses that can exonerate us, no matter how legitimate they might look to us. It cannot be otherwise: the dire need of our brother or sister has to be address quickly. If we do not become their neighbor their need remains unmet or will worsen.

The Levite and the priest had very legitimate, compelling excuses. Had they or their clothes touched the wretched traveler who could have been dead, they would have incurred ritual impurity. Ritual impurity would have forced them to return to Jerusalem and to submit themselves to lengthy and troublesome purification rituals before setting out again for Jericho to attend to their liturgical duties.

Becoming neighbor to one in need is always a clear matter of inconvenience and, oftentimes, exposure to serious personal troubles. To this we ought to add another consideration: notice how the unlucky traveler was stripped of his clothes, so there was no way of telling if he was a Jew, a Samaritan, a foreigner, a hated Roman, a vicious foe. The logical conclusion we should draw, if we are inclined to become neighbor at a high personal cost, is this: our decision cannot depend on philosophical, political, religious, ethnic persuasions. To become neighbor we ought to assign beforehand enough value to every single person without exception.

However, we are called by God to live and to act as disciples of Jesus within the concrete context of our country and its laws. Therefore, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we ought to imbed in our heart the right inner disposition that will spontaneously assist us in distinguishing what we are expected to do as “good Samaritans” from what we must leave up to those whose task is to assist in emergencies lest our imprudent intervention might make things worse.

It should be evident to us that the correct inner disposition that makes us potential “good Samaritans” requires the direct help of the Holy Spirit. It is so easy to come up with legitimate excuses, and we are naturally pre-programmed to do what is convenient and of interest to us, unless we assign sufficient value to anyone, we would not be ready to take seriously this second commandment that sets us on the path to eternal life. We all know the extent of the inconvenience which Jesus gladly embraced as the first “good Samaritan,” because of the value he had assigned to each one of us before coming down from heaven in human flesh.

The order “Go and do likewise” hasn’t change since the time Jesus first told this story.

Obviously, “good Samaritans” are formed and shaped a little bit each day in imitation of Christ or, more precisely, of Christ crucified. The golden rule could be a very good starting point because it is simple and it bypasses excuses. It is such in its positive and in its negative form as well. In its positive form: do onto others as you wish them do onto you. In its negative form: do not do onto others what you do not want them do onto you.

As a concrete application, we could train ourselves to make little sacrifices, to renounce a little bit of this and a little bit of that for people in their need. It would be a daily effort to assign value to anyone. Watching the news daily has to be considered also very important; we know the adage: “out of sight out of mind.” Also the opposite might be true: “often before our eyes, often in our mind too.”

May the Lord Jesus, in whose Blood we are reconciled with the Father, inspire us to imitate him and to shape ourselves into good Samaritans always ready to draw close to our brothers and sisters in their need.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin