Monday, 15 July 2013

A Monday Morning with Sunday readings: Exploring the heart of the Samaritan

Sunday's readings helped  us explore a little more deeply one of the great Christian viritues:  Care for the sick. But as we were exploring that virtue, with the help of the Gospel account of the Good Samaritan,  we were looking at a quality Christians 'should have' that is not only a virtue, but should define our entire lives. To help us achieve all this, we have a wonderful 16th century Italian Saint who is considered to be the Patron of the sick, and those who care for them...

                                                           St. Camillus de Lellis

St Camelius, seeing Jesus in all the sick.

 Like many of our Saints, Camelius had a very unholy beginning to life. He took service with his father, an Italian noble, against the Turks, and after four years’ hard campaigning found himself, through his violent temper, reckless habits, and inveterate passion for gambling, a discharged soldier. This eventually led him to do work on a Capuchin monastery being built at the time. Again, like many of our Saints, all it took was a few words from a Capuchin friar to bring about his conversion. 
 He of course thought he was ready for religious life. Unfortunately for him, war wounds got in the way of his formation, and he was forced to repeat his Novitiate 3 times. He repaired to Rome for medical treatment, and there took St. Philip as his confessor, and entered the hospital of St. Giacomo, of which he became in time the superintendent. The carelessness of the paid chaplains and nurses towards the suffering patients now inspired him with the thought of founding a congregation to minister to their wants. With this end he was ordained priest, and in 1586 his community of the Servants of the Sick was confirmed by the Pope. Its usefulness was soon felt, not only in hospitals, but in private houses. Summoned at every hour of the day and night, the devotion of Camillus never grew cold. With Christ like tenderness he attended to the needs of his patients. He wept with them, consoled them, and prayed with them. He knew miraculously the state of their souls;  One day a sick man said to the Saint, "Father, may I beg you to make up my bed? it is very hard." Camillus replied, "God forgive you, brother! You beg me! Don't you know yet that you are to command me, for I am your servant and slave."  In the year 1614 he died with the full use of his faculties, after two weeks' saintly preparation, as the priest was reciting the words of the ritual, "May Jesus Christ appear to thee with a mild and joyful countenance!"
Readings What is key for me in the life of today's saint is not what he became -a servant to the sick- but how he got to that stage- his conversion of the heart-:  He placed himself in this environment, recognized the lack of love for God's cherished children in this place, and rather than complaining about that lack of love as so many of us would have done, he gave his life to Being that love for those who needed it the most. I know so little about this saint, and yet I already consider him as a role model for my own vocation, which is a desire not to fix the problems of the world, but to provide a Christian response to these problems. A large part of that response is a profound compassion for others. This is something we find in St Camelius but also in the Gospel of today, the famous story of the Good Samaritan.

  It's a story we know very well, that's ingrained in our culture, so much so that to this day, many languages use the expression 'A Good Samaritan' to speak of anyone who does good deeds. But it's important to observe that this story is not just about 'a good deed'.  There are two levels to this story that need to be highlighted.
1) Who is the person doing the action?
2) What is it that they're doing?

1) I'm not going to go into great detail about who 'the Samaritans' are, but will only state that they were a marginalized and hated people by the Ancient Israelite (and the hatred was apparently very mutual). They in fact, were also 'Jewish' -descendants of the sons of Joseph (the dreamer whose story we read this past week in Genesis) and therefore, descendants of Israel- but there had been a historical falling out between them and the other tribes of Israel. This is why when they are mentioned in the New Testament, they are mentioned  as a people that the Jews should have no interaction with. So to have Jesus tell a story where the one doing a good deed was a Samaritan, was rather shocking. Notice that even the lawyer who is engaging with Jesus can't get himself to say the name 'Samaritan'. When he's asked: 

36Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"
the Lawyer replies, " "The one who showed mercy on him."
I hope no contemporary examples are needed to explain the dynamics of what's going on here, but if one is required...I could easily put it in a Canadian context: ' Imagine Jesus telling the same story to English Canadians who hate Quebekers ( or reverse Quebecois who hate Anglos. Or adapt it to any other form of prejudice you know exists in our country.) Imagine the reaction of the audience when they hear that a representative of this people that they despise is the only good guy in the story. I guarantee you, even 2000 years later, this story would still have a strong (negative) effect on people.

2) Knowing how much he was hated by the Israelites, the Samaritan was almost taking a risk being in this part of the Middle East in the first place. It would have been advantageous for him to turn his back on the injured individual, especially if the robbers were still nearby. But he didn't. Out of great compassion for this stranger, he did what no one else would. He didn't just call for help, or bring him to a doctor, as many of us may have done: He personally carried him to a safe place; he then took care of him by himself during the night; and he ensured that others 
would care for him 
-with monetary incentive, something he didn't need- . This goes way beyond the call of 'doing a good deed'. It's a way of life that celebrates the dignity of every living being, and that values the sacredness of every person, regardless of their nationality or culture.

 Now, you may be thinking " No one would do that today. No one is THAT generous to a complete stranger, especially towards someone they 'supposedly' hate".  Most people aren't, it's true. But some are. Most important for the context of our story...Jesus is. For as our 2nd reading states, Jesus is not only the origin of all creation, but he has come among us to reconcile all people and to offer peace to all of creation, which he offers to us as he himself suffers violence on the Cross. But The peace and reconciliation Jesus offers us isn't just a's a challenge:  he's calling us to  do live this spirit of peace, reconciliation in our own lives.  So no, not everyone can be like the Good Samaritan, but Jesus is merely saying 'if  you want to get closer to God, you must begin to imagine how your life can be a little more like that Samaritan, like Christ on the Cross, who gives without counting the cost, without expecting anything in return

Deuteronomy 30:
 10 - 14

10if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
11"For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.
12It is not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
14But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
Psalms 19: 8 - 11
8the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11Moreover by them is thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Colossians 1: 15 - 20
15He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
16for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.
17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
19For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross

Luke 10: 25 - 37
25And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
26He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?"
27And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
28And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."
29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion,
34and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'
36Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"
37He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

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