Luke 10: 25-37
Three week ago, Pope Francis talked about the function of law. He said laws are needed and can be good. However, Jesus did rebuke those who used the law against people. Jesus reprimanded people for not caring for others and using the law to rationalize their actions. We must be alert to those who ‘imprisoned’ others with unnecessary laws, little details of no importance or made others slaves to the letter of the law and not to the spirit of the law.
This reminded me of a Canon Law teacher I had during my seminary days. I wasn’t looking forward to the classes on Canon Law. I thought it would be boring with lots of memorization. Fortunately, I had a wise Franciscans as my teacher. He was wise for he emphasized over and over that the law was there to help people. If anyone used Canon Law to abuse people, they didn’t understand the purpose of Canon Law.
I believe this is the attitude of St. Paul in the first reading and Jesus in the Gospel reading. Both had a keen sense of how to appreciate the law. Paul counters a disturbing attitude among the Galatians by saying that it is through faith in Jesus Christ that a person enjoys a relationship with God and not by an exacting observance of external laws and ritual observances. It is possible for a Christian to be hung up on various external acts and obligations which are identified with Catholicism, and yet that person may be far removed from the spirit of the Gospel.
Jesus explains the spirit of the Gospel by saying we must love our neighbor. No law can excuse us from helping a person in need. When the two "holy" men, who were expected to love God and neighbor, saw a man lying on the side of the road, bloodied from his encounter with robbers, they carefully moved to the other side of the road and continued their journey…for religious reasons. I am sure they felt justified in snubbing the victim in need. Along comes a Samaritan who sees the helpless and suffering man. He sees and acts with compassion. The Samaritan, one despised by the Jews, is the person who comes to the rescue of the injured man. He could have used the laws and customs of the day to explain away any responsibility to offer assistance. Yet, he responded with compassion. He truly understood that laws should not separate us, imprison us or prevent us from helping others in need.
"Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?" [The scholar of the law] answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.