Saturday, July 13, 2019

Homily - 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Who is my Neighbor?

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

             When we hear the words “Good Samaritan,” most of us have a positive reaction.
This was not the case in Jesus’ day. The Samaritans and Jews despised each other. In fact, at the time Jesus was telling this story, the Samaritan was an outcast in the Jewish world. Someone to be avoided. Someone demonized by those hearing this story for the first time.  
Perhaps an equivalent to a Samaritan today, especially here in the Northwest, would be a homeless person. Or someone struggling with mental and spiritual distress who would do something violent in a Church. 
Today’s Gospel about the Good Samaritan came to life on the streets of Everett once while serving our homeless sisters and brothers with MercyWatch.
Click HERE to learn more about MercyWatch
           There we witnessed a beautiful act of human compassion done by someone in our old parish community – a homeless man named Kevin.
            Kevin’s a regular at Sunday Mass in Everett. I’ve heard young people refer to Kevin as skinny Santa Claus due to his long white hair and beard.  He’s been in our parish community for over 20 years. Our team has tried to get him off the streets, but sadly his drug use prevents this.
           What he did will touch your heart.
Kevin is a baptized Catholic. He used to be an altar server back in the day.  That’s why he comes to Mass each week.
           We Catholics are called as Missionary Disciples to learn from the poor. Enter into relationship with the poor. Advocate for the poor. And serve the poor.
            This specific reminder comes from Pope Francis in his first apostolic exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium --- click to get link to document) – The Joy of the Gospel. It’s a blueprint for missionary discipleship.
So what does The Joy of the Gospel says to us? 
That we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, walking with, loving and healing those on the margins, those who are outcasts in our society.
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis said, “I want a Church which is poor for the poor. They have much to teach us. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.”
And that’s exactly what Kevin did. He evangelized our homeless outreach team that night.
            We arrived on an evening when temperatures were in the mid-20s.  Kevin was under a bridge in his sleeping bag. Next to him was a young man dressed only in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt; no shoes, no coat, no blanket, no food.  He was freezing.
            The man was clearly going through withdrawals from drug use.  Kevin was talking to him and trying to get the man to stay by him.
            Our group arrived with a car loaded with FEMA emergency blankets, food and water.  We spotted Kevin and grabbed blankets to help keep him and others warm in the frigid weather.
            The young man refused blankets and didn’t want much to do with us. He was pretty out of it.  But Kevin insisted we give a blanket to his neighbor, and food and water. We did as Kevin commanded. And watched as he lovingly took care of the man.
            We are all called by God to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is not our place to justify ourselves by asking what the scholar of the Law who tested Jesus asked, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then shared with the man the story of the Good Samaritan.  While the priest and Levite (or deacon) passed by the man beaten by robbers and laying on the side of the road, the Samaritan, (the outcast in the Jewish world) stopped and tended to the man.
When the scholar of the Law is asked by Jesus, “Which…, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”  He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Our Washington state Bishops wrote a Pastoral Letter a few years ago entitled “Who Is My Neighbor?” (Click here for link to LETTER)
In it, they called on us all to advocate “on behalf of those who lack the basic rights of food and shelter, access to health care, a living wage and education and to ask difficult questions and search for solutions.”
Only then can a just world be made present.
This coming week, I’ll be headed to Maryknoll Los Altos in Northern California to be with fellow Seattle Archdiocesan deacons and other laypeople from around the country concerned about the plight of the homeless and our response to it.
There we are doing a deep dive into how scripture calls us to help with the problem. Not by ignoring it as the priest and Levite (or deacon) might do, but by lovingly being part of the solution like the Good Samaritan.
I hope to bring back ideas for all of us here at Christ Our Hope. After all, we are a beacon of hope in the heart of downtown Seattle.
Our community already does much. But God is calling us to do more.
What we cannot do is just walk on by this problem.
We must be loving and show mercy to our sisters and brothers in distress here in our beautiful city.
Like the scholar of the Law, Jesus is asking each of us to “go and do likewise.”
Jesus is talking today about what it takes to have eternal life.  No, this is not something that’s earned, but is received as a gift in a loving friendship with Jesus. And for loving God and neighbor, as the young scholar said.
What Jesus does not want us to do is minimalize his mission of love to the world. For Jesus, there are no limits to love.
Instead of asking “And who is my neighbor?,” Jesus wants us to reflect on this question, “Who do I choose not to love.” Then learn to love this person.
Our generous community has reached its goal with the Annual Catholic Appeal. This means every penny now contributed over the goal will go to strengthening our outreach efforts at Christ Our Hope.
I’ll be looking for fellow parishioners to join a revitalized outreach team as we discern where God is calling us to share this blessing.
So, “Who is my Neighbor?”
My homeless friend Kevin knows. 
May his loving actions kindle in our hearts a passion to follow his example.