“It is something very near to you, already in your mouths
and in your hearts;you have only to carry it out.”
Moses tells the people about the nearness of God in their lives.
He brings the God of Mount Sinai and the God of the Law into the
hearts of the people. This is the God who is the Father of Jesus
Christ. Not a distant God who is hard to know, but a near and
loving God who wants to be our source of strength and salvation.
This is the God we seek and this is the God who walks with us
The scholar in the Gospel story today wants to know God but
he is filled with questions and seeks absolute theological answers.
He seems convinced that if he just knew a bit more, had more questions
answered, he would indeed find the peace he is seeking. Jesus
of course prompts him to remember the teachings of Moses who build
everything on love; the love of God and the love of our neighbor.
It is a simple and direct answer that is correct, but Jesus knows
that the scholar has not taken his “knowledge” and
turned it into life. Knowing the truth in words alone does not
make us Christians. Living the truth in action is what transforms
the words into the Word, and the real presence of Jesus in our
By telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is challenging
the scholar to keep the core of faith, the law of love, and let
it permeate the customs and practices of the religious life of
the day. The law of the scholars had many rules and regulations
and would never have been allowed to take care of the stranger
who was different and isolated. It would break the religious traditions,
so the priest and the Levite (of the priestly class) could not
help. But the Samaritan was not wrapped up in the religious laws,
just the law of love that transcends all laws. He was not bound
by tradition to choose the rules over compassion and love. It
takes a stranger, a foreigner, a Samaritan to show how to live
what the Scholar knew in his head but had not brought to his heart.
It is that small journey from head to heart that truly transforms
us. It is a reminder to all religious people like us who worship
God and read the scripture and follow out traditions as well as
we can. We always need to see the truth behind and beneath our
traditions and customs and keep rooted in those fundamental truths
of love and compassion, forgiveness and mercy. It is only when
the love of God, that is so close to us, remains the center of
our lives do any religious tradition and custom make sense.
This call to universal love is not of course a call to abandon
law and traditions. Our ancestors in faith have shown us the way
of how to live this life of love. The moral traditions and church
practices that we have inherited are the result of thousands of
years of experience of living the law of love. All of our traditions
are based on what works best for us to keep walking with the Lord.
We are not left to recreate the wheel or the church or the world
all by ourselves. As Moses says, it is here for us right here
and now, we can grasp the rich traditions that have worked so
well and live the life of love and peace that God wants for us.
The challenge we face is to see the deeper meaning, the whole
picture and not get caught up in the letter of the law and miss
the spirit completely.
We hear a lot these days about the church practices of Pre-Vatican
II and the approval of a freer use of the old rites. It is not
a call to “better” or “right”, and those
who choose other styles of worship are not any more correct. It
is a reminder that there is no “one” way to worship.
The key is how we open our hearts to God. The key of all good
religion is that it is open to any tool that will enhance the
journey. If one prays better in English; Wonderful! If one prayers
better in Latin; Great! I worked in Los Angeles for the past 7
years and regularly presided at Spanish Speaking Masses. Although
many, if not most participants understood English, they prayed
best in Spanish. This was the best tool for them to hear the word
of God deep in their hearts and minds and strength and being.
Some Catholics find these different styles of liturgy to be
causing division. This could be true if we think each one group
has all the right answers. We are called to be open to the Spirit
of God who is beyond language, custom, theological style, ethnic
or economic background. We celebrate the call to be catholic and
universal, to be diverse and unified.
We all are called to celebrate our traditions without bypassing
the love of Love that calls each of us to be good Samaritans.
This Love, this Spirit, this Jesus, this God who is Love calls
us to open our hearts each moment and allow the love in our hearts
to be carried out into the world we live. Without that, we cease
to be Christian and remain just religious.