15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Sunday's readings:
Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Psalm 69:14-15, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36 or 19:8-11
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Obedience to the Commandments of God
Obedience to the commands of God is the pathway to life in the Old Testament and in the New. The Old Testament Law was a tutor and a guide that prepared the people of God for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah and His Law of love of God and neighbor. In the First Reading and in the Gospel Reading, the focus is on keeping God's commandments.

The First Reading is from Moses' last homily to the children of Israel as they prepared to cross over the Jordan River to begin the conquest of the Promised Land. Moses impresses upon the people that to receive God's blessings they must continue in obedience to the Law God set down for them in the Sinai covenant. He encourages them by saying that the Law is not difficult to understand, nor is obedience to the Law beyond their abilities to fulfill.

The Responsorial Psalm is one of the psalms of entreaty that was sung during the liturgy of worship in the Jerusalem Temple. It is a lament of suffering in which God is petitioned for His help in times of distress. Despite the fact that the psalmist is suffering, he continues to praise God and to be both thankful for God's blessings and hopeful for God's deliverance.

The Second Reading is from St. Paul's letter to the Christian community at Colossae in which he warns them against false teachings that detract from the truth of the person and work of Christ Jesus for man's salvation. In writing of the reality of Christ, Paul gives them a magnificent poetic passage on the true identity and divine nature of the Christ.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in which He expands the Old Testament commandment to show God's love to one's neighbor beyond the members of the Israelite covenant family (Lev 19:18). For the Christian, love of God is not complete without extending love to our neighbors in the human family. The message for us is that we cannot please God without demonstrating love and compassion to others regardless of whether or not we think they are deserving of an act of love.

The opening and alternate prayers for our liturgy of worship express all that we should ask of the Lord concerning fulfilling our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Lord, we pray that "... the Gospel may be our rule of life. God our Farther, your light of truth guides us to the way of Christ. May all who follow him reject what is contrary to the Gospel." And the alternate opening prayer concludes with the petition: "May your love make us what you have called us to be."

The First Reading Deuteronomy 30:10-14 ~ God's Commandments are not Difficult
Moses said to the people: 10 If only you would heed the voice of the LORD [YHWH], your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the Law, when you return to the LORD [YHWH], your God, with all your heart and all your soul. 11 "For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. 12 It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' 13 Nor is it across the sea, that you should day, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' 14 No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out."
LORD in all capital letters replaces the Divine Name in the original Hebrew text.

This passage is from Moses' last homily to the children of Israel in their camp on the plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River. It is the end of their forty year journey and the new generation of Israelites is ready to cross the Jordan River and conquer the land God promised the Patriarchs. Moses impresses upon the people that to receive God's blessings they must continue in obedience to the Law God set down for them in the Sinai covenant. He encourages them by saying that the Law is not difficult to understand, nor is obedience to the Law beyond their abilities to fulfill. He uses two metaphorical examples in verses 12-13 to convince the people that obedience to the Law is not beyond their reach and the Law is both practical and realistic:

  1. The Law is not inaccessible because of its height or loftiness so that an ordinary person is not able to live in obedience to it.
  2. The Law is not so theologically deep that an ordinary person finds it difficult to understand.

St. Paul will quote Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in Romans 10:6-8, adapting the quote to suit his own purpose to illustrate the basic nature of the New Covenant by applying the verses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He interprets the "depths of the sea" as Sheol (the grave)-it is Christ who came up from the depths of the grave to ascend to the heavens. Paul continues with a profession of faith, after quoting Deuteronomy 30:14 - The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith, the faith which we preach, that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved (Rom 10:8-9).

Responsorial Psalm 69 or 19
Psalm 69:14-15, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36 ~ A Cry of Distress Calling for God's Help
The response is: "Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live."

14 I pray to you, O LORD, for the time of your favor, O God! 15 In your great kindness answer me with your constant help.
17Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness: in your great mercy turn toward me.
Response:
30 I am afflicted and in pain; let your saving help, O God, protect me. 31 I will praise the name of God in song, and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
Response:
33 "See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! 34 For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not."
36 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. The descendants of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall inhabit it.
Response:

The word "LORD" all in capital letters is a substitute word for the Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh). Psalms 69-72 are psalms of entreaty in which the focus is on hope. These three psalms are the last of the psalms in the second book of the five books of the Psalter. Psalm 69 was sung in the liturgy of worship and is a lament of suffering in which the psalter petitions God for His help. The psalm begins with an appeal to God by a person who is in great danger and petitions God to answer his prayer by demonstrations of His mercy in His unceasing aid to the petitioner (verse 14, 17). Even though the psalmist is suffering, he continues to praise God and is thankful for God's protection (verses 30-31). This is another example of the lesson that a humble and contrite heart's praise of God during difficult times is more pleasing to the Lord than sacrifice (see Ps 51:17-18).

Psalm 69:33-34 "See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! 34 For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not."
Verses 33-35 refer to the song that is sung in response to the petition with the word "praise" in verse 35 (not in our reading) referring back to the "praise" in verse 31. The message of verses 33-34 is to be encouraged in your distress because God hears all who call upon Him, including the poor and those in prison who suffer for His sake.

36 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. The descendants of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall inhabit it. "Zion" was the original name of the citadel of Jerusalem that was conquered by King David (2 Sam 5:6-9). Later, the name was applied to the entire mountain crest upon which Jerusalem was built (Ps 2:6) and even to the city of Jerusalem itself (Ps 147:12 and Is 1:27). In the New Testament it became an allegorical term for the kingdom of heaven (Heb 12:22; Rev 14:1). In this sense, the "descendants of his servants" who will "inherit and inhabit" the heavenly Zion are the Christians who are the heirs of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Titus 3:7).

Alternate Psalm 19:8-11 ~ God's Glory Reflected in the Law
The response is: "Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life."
8 The law of the LORD [Yahweh] is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the LORD [Yahweh] is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. 9 The precepts of the LORD [Yahweh] are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the LORD [Yahweh] is clear, enlightening the eye. 10 The fear of the LORD [Yahweh] is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD [Yahweh] are true, all of them just. 11 They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.

The word LORD is a substitute for the Divine Name. In the second half of Psalm 19 (verses 8-14) the Divine Name is repeated seven times. The wisdom of God is made available to man through God's gift of the Law. Six synonyms are used to describe God's revelation of the Law in verses 8-11: perfect, trustworthy, right, clear, pure, and true. The "fear of the LORD [Yahweh]" mentioned in verse 10 refers to the spiritually healthy fear of offending God. Such a respectful "fear" helps one adhere faithfully to the precepts of the Law and to fulfill the Law in love of God and love of neighbor.

The Second Reading Colossians 1:15-20 ~ The Preeminence of Christ-His Person and His Work
15 Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 17 He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

St. Paul's letter is addressed to the faith community at Colossae in the Lycus Valley of Asia Minor, east of the city of Ephesus (modern day Turkey). Paul did not found this community and at the time his letter was written St. Paul had not yet visited there, as the letter says in 1:4 and 2:1. Paul is writing to them because Epaphras, their teacher who may have founded the community (1:7; 4:12; Phlm 23), arrived from Colossae with disturbing news. Problems have arisen through teachers who emphasized Christ's relationship to the mysteries of the universe (cosmos). Their teachings had strayed into connections with astral powers, cultic practices and rules concerning food and drink and ascetical disciplines. In response to the allegations, Paul sends forth a warning against false teachings which Paul tells the community detracts from the person and work of Christ Jesus for man's salvation. He also includes instructions on the demands of the Christian life and in our reading from his letter, a magnificent poetic passage on the reality of Christ.

Some Bible scholars think this poem may have become an early Christian hymn. The subject of the poem/hymn is the pre-existence and preeminence of Christ. In the so-called "Wisdom literature" of the Old Testament, Wisdom was personified and seen as an agent through whom God created the universe and continued to preserve it (see for example Wis 6:12-16). In St. Paul's letter to the church in Colossus, he presents God's Wisdom incarnated in Jesus Christ. Paul writes that God revealing Himself and acting in Jesus is the same God who created and preserves the earth and the universe. Jesus is the mediator of creation (verses 15-18a) and of redemption (18b-20).

15 Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
This is not to say that Jesus was the first thing created in the Creation event. Jesus is not a created being-He is begotten not made. The first man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26), but Christ as the image of God now shares the new, restored nature with those redeemed by Christian baptism (see Col 3:10-11). Christ was preeminent and supreme as God's agent in the first Creation and now holds the same power and authority in the new Creation event.

Notice the parallelism between "firstborn of all creation" in verse 15 and "firstborn from the dead" in verse 18. When Jesus was resurrected by God as "firstborn from the dead" (Rev 1:5), he was given permanence over the Kingdom of the Church that he brought into being as the Head of the Body that is His Church. He is called the "head" of His own body both in a temporal sense in that He was the first to rise from the dead (verse 18) and spiritually by His preeminent/principal role in the order of salvation (verse 20) in that He is also indicated as the crown of the entire new creation and over "all things."

The universe was basically good but was corrupted by sin. It was Jesus' mission to restore and "to reconcile all things for him" and become the head of everything that exists:

In the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and in the baptism of Christians, God's design has been restored and we are reconciled with God "by the blood of his [Jesus'] cross."

The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 ~ The Greatest Commandment and the Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 26 Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" 27 He said in reply, "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." 28 He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live."
29 But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "and who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 32 Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 33 But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. 34 He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.' 36 Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robber's victim?" 37 He answered, 'The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

In Luke 10:21 Jesus contrasts the disciples as "children/childlike" as opposed to the "wise and learned" who oppose His teaching and proclamation of the Kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:25-30, St. Paul wrote about those considered to be "wise and learned" according to the world. He wrote that God does not measure wisdom and strength by human standards. He chose those (the Apostles and disciples of Jesus) who were not considered either wise or learned or influential by human standards to shame those who arrogantly believed they were superior in their understanding of God and the Law.

In the Gospel reading, one of the "wise and learned," a scholar of the Law, steps forward to test Jesus' understanding of the Torah (the Law of Moses) by asking, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" to which Jesus' counters the scholar's question with His own question, asking what is written in the Law and how does he interpret it (Lk 10:26). The scholar answers by quoting from two commandments from the Torah-the first is from a verse that is from the collection of verses in the Shema (the Old Covenant profession of faith) in Deuteronomy 6:7 and the second from the Holiness Code (Lev chapters 17-26) in Leviticus 19:18. The first quote the scholar gives is from Deuteronomy 6:7 gives a command concerning one's relationship with God and the depth of that commitment: He said in reply, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind... One must give God one's undivided love and loyalty, which encompasses one's entire being:

The scholar lists the second law that leads to eternal life from Leviticus 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments summarize the Ten Commandments-the first three commandments address man's relationship to God and other seven commandments address man's relationship with his fellow man. Jesus approves of the scholar's answer and tells him if he indeed follows his understanding of the Law that he will find eternal life.

However, still wishing to test Jesus, the scholar asks for Jesus' definition of "neighbor" (Lk 10:29). According to the Law in Leviticus 19:17-18, "neighbor" is defined as one's own countryman but Leviticus 19:33-34 commands the ethical treatment of foreigners living in the land of Israel. Jesus answers the scholar of the Law by telling a story about an unfortunate man who was robbed and beaten on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The contrast in this story is between the "righteous" Jews and the "heretic" Samaritan.

In Jesus' story, two Jews who would be seen as "righteous" see a badly injured man along the side of the road but pass by without rendering aid. One man is a priest and the other Levite. Both men serve God in the Temple and in teaching the people concerning the commands and prohibitions of the Law. The priest is a descendant of Aaron from the tribe of Levi, the first high priest, and is an ordained minister of God's Sanctuary (Ex 28:1; Num 3:10). The Levite is a descendant of the tribe of Levi who is not related to Aaron and who serves the Aaronic priesthood as a lesser minister (Num 3:5, 9). The Samaritans were despised by the Jews and for Jesus to use a Samaritan as a model of compassion and virtue would have been received with shock and disbelief by the scholar and the Jewish crowd listening to the Jesus.

In Jesus' story the Samaritan renders aid in five different ways by offering his personal resources:

  1. he offers his oil
  2. his wine
  3. his mount
  4. his money and
  5. his time

It has been suggested that the priest and Levite may have not stopped because of the probations of the Law. To touch a dead or bloody body would have rendered them ritually unclean, and they would have had to spend a week becoming purified (see Lev 5:3; 21:1-3; Num 5:2; 6:6-8; 19:2-3). This was the case for any Jew but in their case such impurity would prevent them from service in the Temple until purity was restored. However, this excuse doesn't really work for them since they were traveling away from the Jerusalem Temple on the way to Jericho; they certainly did not have an urgent need to remain purified.

In Luke 10:36-37 Jesus asks the scholar: Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robber's victim?" 37 He answered, 'The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Jesus' question to the scholar in verse 36 changes the nature of the man's original question. The scholar was at first hostile to Jesus, wishing to test Him and to find Him in error, but now he appears to be responsive to Jesus' teaching and answers correctly that the Samaritan demonstrated mercy and compassion. Jesus rewards him with the warning to put his words into practice.

Priests and Levites enjoyed a privileged status in society and were committed to maintaining ritual purity as a symbol of their internal condition of holiness in serving God and God's people. But once again Jesus teaches that the Law is not meant to be inflexible and rigid in cases where mercy is more important than the letter of the Law. It was the same teaching He gave when challenged by the Pharisees and scribes for allowing His hungry disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath and when He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (see Lk 6:1-10). For the Christian, love of God is not complete without extending love to our neighbor (see Gal 5:14; Rom 13:9; Jam 2:8 where love of one's neighbor is regarded as the completion of Old Testament Law). The message for us is that we cannot please God without demonstrating love and compassion to others in the human family regardless of whether or not we think they are deserving of an act of love.

Catechism References:
Colossians 1:15-20 (CCC 2641)
Colossians 1:15 (CCC 241, 299, 381, 1701)
Colossians 1:16-17 (CCC 291)
Colossians 1:16 (CCC 331)
Colossians 1:18-20 (CCC 624)
Colossians 1:18 (CCC 504, 658, 753, 792)
Colossians 1:20 (CCC 2305)
Luke 10:25-37 (CCC 2822)
Luke 10:27 (CCC 2083)
Luke 10:34 (CCC 1293)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013