FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 14, 2019:
If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Mr. Fred Rogers sing a little song that went something like this, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
We know we live in difficult times. We’re flooded with images that haunt us – people displaced by the destruction of natural disasters, images of adults and children in cages, the scourge of the opioid epidemic, the endless numbers of mass shootings throughout our country (there have been more than 250 this year already). With the constant barrage of bad news that fills the newspapers and airwaves, we can begin to believe that violence, death and killing are out of control in our midst. We live in an extraordinary time of terror, of violence, of division and polarization and fear. And to all of that our God says to us over and over again – in fact more than 300 times in the Bible – “Do not be afraid.” Love conquers all.
And this is why we daily turn back to God and His Holy Word for our guidance, our inspiration, and our hope. As always, our Scriptures today once again remind us of what God wants of us in the midst of so much anger. He wants us to remember that we are not at odds, we are not in conflict, but that we are all neighbors – even if, and especially if, we thought we were divided.
Jesus proclaim again to us today the Christian Golden Rule, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Nearly every religion and culture in the world has a Golden Rule in one form or another. In Judaism, they say, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Hinduism, “Do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” And in Islam, “No one is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.”
When we look at the situation of our world and wonder what we can do, the answer lies in not adding our voice to the chorus of negativity in the world. Our response needs to be one of tenderness, kindness and compassion. Robert Kennedy, who also knew very violent times, said, “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Or more simply, won’t you be my neighbor?
Jesus proclamation of the Golden Rule insists that all humanity is really one big neighborhood – we are all connected. Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans have erected between “us” and “them” throughout time. To bring home this point He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as an enemy by the people of Jesus’ time for no other reason than he is a Samaritan, is ironically the one who truly proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers new and challenging answer to His hearers: Anyone and everyone is your neighbor – without exception – even the person you thought was your enemy.
In our own world today we need to be reminded that everyone is our neighbor – even the enemy; even the immigrant; even the person who is different than us; even the person we don’t like or who doesn’t like us. They are our neighbor and we must offer them mercy. We must overcome the tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them” and instead heed the command of Jesus to, “Go and do likewise” – to offer mercy, to treat everyone with respect, to be neighbor to the world.
The Christian understanding of “neighbor” has no borders or boundaries. Today we are called to identify and tear down all the walls we have erected between those who belong to us and those who don't belong to us. The Gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realize His dream of the world as a neighborhood without borders or boundaries.
As we gather today, we come to church for some comfort, we come to church for a measure of peace, we come to church to hear what word God has to speak to us. But, we also come to church to be sent back out. “Go and proclaim the Gospel,” “Go and glorify God by your life.” We come to be healed, strengthened, renewed and sent once again to be that peaceful presence in our world. Jesus, today, sends us to “go and do likewise” and to be neighbors to the world.
May the Lord give you peace.