In today’s gospel a scholar of the law – meaning someone who knows and teaches God’s law to his people – comes to ask Jesus what he must do to inherit the kingdom of heaven. This question takes us back to the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. There, we are told what God said to his people when he enjoined on them the command: “it is already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out…,” and you will have eternal life.
In the parable of the Samaritan, Jesus’ answer to the corollary question about “Who is my neighbor?” is a reminder that he makes to the scholar of the law about what he always knows. To carry out the command God has enjoined on them but which they restricted to immediate kinship. The scholar of the law who congratulates Jesus because he quoted and reminded him of the Law, is actually the one to remember that he has not been carrying out the command. What he has to do to inherit the kingdom is just carry out the command. God is not asking too much.
You and I have already been given the law; for Jesus has said that we are already pruned to bear fruit as branches. Moreover, he insisted that the Law and the prophets are summarized in the following commandments: love of God and of neighbor. This is all we need to carry out to inherit the kingdom of heaven. This commandment is already in our hearts and in our mouths. Love is the most used word in our lives. Unfortunately, we take excuses to carry out the commandment. Because, of that love Jesus says that there is no greater than that of laying own’s one life for the sake of others. Like the ministers in today’s gospel, there are so many things which divert us from carrying out the commandments.
The most acerb criticism Jesus is making here is the disconnection between faith and practice. Both the priest and the Levite are ministers of the temple. But, like the scholar of the law, the mercy part of that ministry is missing and lacking. Their understanding of their ministry and faith is limited to a formal fulfillment of their religious duty and celebration. Jesus reminds us that our participation in sacred liturgy, in the eucharist, should always give us an impulse to perform works of mercy. This is because in the Eucharist, we ourselves experience God’s incommensurable mercy that transforms us to channels of that mercy. We are fed in the eucharist so that we may in return feed those laying on the roads of the world. We are shown mercy so that we may in return show mercy to others. It is only in so far as we strive to put into practice and to carry out the command the Lord has enjoined on us that our participation in the Feast of our salvation will bear fruit and be meaningful.
Thus, today you and I are challenged to reconcile the two dimensions of our faith, namely the vertical dimension, which we enter into in the celebration of the sacraments and prayers, and the horizontal dimension where we give proof of our love of God through our love for others, those called in today’s gospel “our neighbor;” the one whose name and face remind us only the face and the name of Christ. The conclusion of our celebration is always the beginning of our ministry in the world as disciples. From the mountain of the temple and sanctuary, we go down the hill to announce the gospel and to change lives, we embark on the way to Jericho to encounter the wounded and the outcast, the hungry and clothe less, the sick and the lonely. It is up to you and me to lift them up and to bandage their wounds.
This is the way we are expected to carry out the command the Lord has enjoined on us, as we continue to pray for one another and for our parish family.