Our Gospel today is pretty clear. A lawyer, a scholar of the law, asks Jesus “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus puts it back on him. Being a good Jew he gets it right on the first try:
He nailed it on the first try. He should have stopped while he was ahead. But being a lawyer he couldn’t let it go. “Who is my neighbor?” It is a perfect setup, and Jesus tells him a story and then asks, who “was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
The lawyer, a little more hesitantly this time perhaps, gets it right again: “The one who treated him with mercy.” Then comes the clincher: “Go and do likewise.”
Go. Do. These are action words. You want eternal life? For Jesus it is not primarily about what you believe, about how you pray, about where you go to church. For Jesus it is about action. “Go and do likewise.”
You see, action is the tough part. It is (at least sometimes) easy to see what needs to be done. It is difficult to do it. But if you want eternal life, if you want to be part of the followers of Jesus, then you have to get off your hindquarters and go and do likewise.
It is not enough to see the problem and understand the solution, and then stop there. Thomas Edison said “Inspiration without execution is hallucination.” St. James in his Epistle said “Faith without works is dead.” (2:26) Jesus said “Go and do likewise.”
You have to do it. You have to feed the hungry. Maybe that means you volunteer at the Micah 6 Foodbank in our area. Maybe that means you also donate money to St. Vincent de Paul or other groups that feed the poor. It certainly means that you exercise your responsibility as a citizen to support programs that feed the poor. Last week the United States House of Representatives passed a farm bill that totally, completely, entirely eliminated Food Stamps. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called SNAP, (or Food Stamps) was not reduced, was not controlled, was not restricted. For the first time in 40 years it was eliminated. The elderly, the sick, children, will go hungry. We, you and I, have to let our Representatives know that this is unacceptable in this country of plenty.
“Go and do likewise.” You have to care for the person in need and welcome the stranger. Maybe that means you help an elderly neighbor by grocery shopping for him or her. Maybe you donate to the Thursday outreach program here at St. Austin’s through the monthly Persons in Need collection that will be taken up today. It certainly means that you work for Justice, especially for those without power: the poor, the sick, the immigrant.
Our country needs – in justice – to enact comprehensive immigration reform that will respect people’s dignity, that will keep families together, that will provide a path to citizenship for those who have been here for years and worked hard to build up our country for years, and that will will protect our borders from criminal and disruptive elements.
Recently – on July 8 in fact - Pope Francis went to the town of Lampedusa in Sicily. Near there immigrants fleeing Africa had drowned. Pope Francis went there to pray. He said: “When I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago, and realized that it happens all too frequently, it has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart. So I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!” And we all know that immigrants coming into our country often die of thirst and exposure, trying to cross the most inhospitable desert places in our State.
Later in that same homily last Monday Pope Francis said: “Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”
Yet the Gospel today shows us that it is our business. Jesus commands us, “Go and do likewise.” It is not complicated. If you go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org you will find the US Catholic Bishops website on immigration. They make it very easy for you to send an electronic postcard to your Senator and Representatives, calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Go and do it.
What must we do to inherit everlasting life? “Go and do likewise.”
Pope Francis’ complete homily (in translation) can be found at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130708_omelia-lampedusa_en.html