July 14, 2013

ORDINARY 15 (C)

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? – Luke 10: 25

There was a fellow returning home in his pickup after a religious revival meeting. He was still thinking about the sermon on Jesus’ turning water into wine at Cana when a local sheriff pulled him over. Acting on a tip that an illegal still was operating in the area, the sheriff searched the truck & found 12 jugs filled with a clear liquid. “What’s in those jugs?” asked the sheriff. The man replied, “Oh, that’s fresh spring water. My wife & I drink nothing but fresh spring water.” “I don’t mean to doubt your word,” said the sheriff, “but I’ll have to taste it.” When the liquid burned his tongue & throat, the sheriff exclaimed, “That’s not spring water, that’s Whiskey!” The fellow looked up to heaven & shouted, “Praise the Lord, He’s done it again!”

   Jesus can perform a miracle of transformation in our life, if we will let Him. Any genuine encounter with Him means change. It makes a difference in the way we live & in the kind of people we are. We cannot encounter God’s grace & continue to live in the same selfish, self-centered, insensitive, unloving & dishonest way. If there is no change, the experience (However pleasant or exciting) is phony.  

   When our Lord preached the Good News, He said time & again, in different ways, “You will be able to identify those who are living under the reign of God by the fruit of their lives.” Words alone such as “Yes, God, I love You, I praise You, I thank You,” are not enough. We must also be doers of the word. This doesn’t mean that the change in our lives will be dramatic or sudden – most of the time it happens incrementally over time.

   In her autobiography, “This I believe,” the actress Helen Hayes tells the moving story of how God touches her life in a time of deep distress: “When my daughter died of polio, everybody stretched out a hand to help me, but at first I couldn’t seem to bear the touch of anything, even the love of friends; no support seemed strong enough. While Mary was still sick, I used to go early in the morning to a little church near the hospital to pray. There the working people came quietly to worship. I had been careless with my religion, I had rather cut God out of my life, & I didn’t have the nerve at the time to ask Him to make my daughter well. I only asked Him to help me understand, to let me come in & reach Him. I prayed there every morning & I kept looking for a revelation, but nothing happened.

   “Then, much later, I discovered that it had happened, right there in the church. I could recall vividly, one-by-one, the people I had seen there – the solemn laborers with their tired looks, the old women with gnarled hands. Life had knocked them around, but for a brief moment they were being refreshed by an ennobling experience. It seemed, as they prayed, their worn faces lighted up & they became the vessels of God.  Here was my revelation. Suddenly I realized I was one of them. In my need I gained strength from the knowledge that they too had needs, & I felt an interdependence with them. I experienced a flood of compassion for people. I was learning the meaning of love thy neighbor….”

   In response to the lawyer’s question, Jesus gives a parable which provides a practical illustration with a clear meaning. One classic interpretation of this parable is that Jesus is the good Samaritan, & it is we who have been stripped & left for dead by our sins & folly. The idea is valid enough, but the underlying question remains: “What must WE do to inherit eternal life?” Indeed, what is eternal life? Jesus takes us beyond the usual pie-in-the-sky answer to that question. He tells us that it has already begun, that it is in progress now. Now is the time to find out who we are & why we are, namely, “You shall love the Lord your God & your neighbor as yourself,” which is to say, Love of God love of neighbor are inseparable. Together they define our raison d’etre & fulfill our deepest longings.

   If we want to deepen our understanding of eternal life & get a glimpse of our eternal destiny, if we want to experience a miracle of transformation in our life, all we have to do is take our neighbor’s hand & offer that person a loving heart. Then we too might hear ourselves saying, “Praise the Lord! He’s done it again!  AMEN!