Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we begin with a reading from the book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law” or “copy of the law.” A whole new generation had grown up since Moses first gave the law, so the new generation is given a review of the history of Israel since the Exodus and a modified and expanded review of the law. The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Colossians contains an essential explanation of who Jesus is. The final excerpt for this week is the recording of Jesus telling the very familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The story itself is amazing, but its application to the hearers (and today’s readers) is most significant.
Introduction to the First Reading:
To understand literature of any kind, it is always important to consider the context of the passage under consideration. This is especially true of the Bible, since it is the inerrant Word of God, is given in a historical setting, and is intended to be relevant to the lives of the current and subsequent hearers or readers. Verse 10 of today’s reading actually begins in the middle of a sentence, so we should look back several verses to see the context. Moses has promised (v. 9) that God would make His people prosperous both in the produce of their work and in their progeny. He will take delight in them . . . (now see today’s reading).
Deuteronomy 30:10-14 NAS95 10 if you obey 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 soul. 11 For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
Two conditions are given for this promised blessing of God: “if you obey” and “if you turn to the Lord ... with all your heart and soul.” It has been suggested that “obedience” may be the key word in Deuteronomy, because “obey” and “obedient” are used at least ten times in some translations. Not only does God expect His people to obey His commands, but Moses says that God has made His command easy for them to grasp. Verse 14 suggests that when God’s people obey, He enables them to understand His Word (His commands), because they are “near,” “in your mouth and in your heart.”
Many people are seeking God as if He were unreachable, so transcendent that human beings cannot find Him. Although sin will surely separate a person from God, He remains available to the true seeker. Isaiah wrote, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). One of the strong lessons from Deuteronomy is that obedience is necessary in order to know God. Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14.23).
Introduction to the Second Reading:
Colossians is one of the so-called “Prison Epistles,” because the Apostle Paul wrote them to various churches in Asia Minor while he was jailed in Rome. His writings usually include a succinct but rich theological passage, explaining doctrine for the benefit of young believers and their leaders. Those deep teaching passages are most often followed by very practical instruction about Christian living. Today’s reading is a primary statement of who Jesus is. One New Testament scholar notes, “In Colossians we have the most thorough presentation of Christology in the New Testament.” The substance of the epistle may be summed up in a key verse (3:11), “Christ is all and in all.”
Colossians 1:15-20 NAS95 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Paul concludes a very wonderful prayer for the Colossians with a reference to God’s “beloved son, in whom we have redemption” (v. 14). Then, our reading for today begins, detailing who this “beloved son” is. First, “He is the image of the invisible God.” We learn two very important ideas here. “Image” means an exact copy; in other words, there is no difference in essence between God and Jesus. Also, since God is invisible, He has made it possible for us to see Him in physical form through the incarnation of Jesus. John’s Gospel is helpful here: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (1:18).
The term “firstborn of all creation” has been confusing to many, thinking that Jesus was a created being, not having existed as God before creation. However, what Paul has in mind here are the rights and privileges of a firstborn son, especially the son of a monarch. The expression was used of David in Psalm 89:27, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” So, the idea is of priority, not birth order.
Speaking of creation, Paul teaches that it is Jesus by whom everything has come into being: “All things have been created through Him.” Not only that, they were created “for Him.” He is supreme over creation. In fact, everything in the world is held together by Him. Jesus is the creator and upholder of the physical universe, and He is also the creator and head of the church, that body of believers who, by faith, have become a part of His body (a metaphor for the church) of which He is the head.
If we learn nothing else from this passage, it should be very clear to the reader that Jesus is to “have first place in everything.” He created it all; He sustains it; He will bring it all to completion when God’s gracious plan of redemption is fulfilled. And that plan is made possible because in God’s “good pleasure” Jesus provided the means of reconciliation with God by the “blood of the cross.”
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
We sometimes read the story of the Good Samaritan, admiring his kindness and generosity in helping an unfortunate stranger who had been mugged (in today’s parlance). To profit most from the story, we must recognize the circumstances that prompted Jesus to tell the story and understand both the the question that prompted the interchange and the answer. It’s far more than an interesting tale. Its lessons may require some tough introspection and application.
Luke 10:25-37 NAS95 25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" 27 And 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." 28 And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" 37 And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."
A lawyer asks Jesus about eternal life. He asks, “What do I have to do to earn it?” Jesus reminds him of the basic law of God, which the lawyer acknowledges: to love God and your neighbor. When Jesus affirms his answer, He tells the inquirer to do it, to love God and his neighbor. “Who is my neighbor? the lawyer asks, and Jesus then relates the parable that has become so familiar to us today.
In the story there are four characters that are easily identified. The injured man is a traveler on a busy road between two cities. Three other travelers are noted: a priest who passes by the victim, perhaps because he thought he was dead and to touch a dead body would make the priest unclean until he went through certain required cleanings. The Levite was another religious person, who undoubtedly served in the temple or synagogue. Very likely, he also wanted to avoid the uncleanness associated with a possibly dead man. Finally, a stranger came along who was from Samaria. Most likely, the injured man was Jewish, perhaps identified by his clothing. Although Samaritans and Jews did not associate, this traveling Samaritan took pity on the victim and offered him assistance at some personal cost.
As someone has said, Jesus’ parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. So, as we hear the story, we wonder what is the basic lesson to be learned. Who does each of the characters represent: the injured traveler, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan? Simply put, the first two represent people who, though religious, put feelings and convenience ahead of compassion and help. The Samaritan pictures the person who, though of a different religious and/or ethnic background, has compassion for someone in need and freely offers help. But the critical question is how do we identify the neighbor?
In answer to the Jesus’ question, the lawyer replies that the neighbor is “the one who showed mercy,” the Samaritan. Most of us misread the story. We seem to think Jesus is telling us to identify the needy around us as the neighbors who need help? No, He is teaching that we who see someone in need are to be the neighbor who brings aid and compassion to the needy even when they are not “our kind,” and may be different from us in many ways.
We should also observe that the lawyer’s initial question assumes that he—or we—can do something to inherit eternal life. The action of the Good Samaritan is evidence of a heart that is right before God. The heart that has a genuine love for God and serves Him comes to Him by faith and serves by His grace.
- In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the roles of the characters are easy to identify. In real life it is much harder to recognize the needs of the strangers and then to do something about it in a timely manner. In what ways do you see opportunities for you to be a compassionate neighbor to someone in need, even someone very different from you?
- Whom among your neighbors and workplace could you consider as a “Samaritan” in that they are different from you in terms of beliefs and culture? What are some ways in which understanding this in advance may help you to accept help from others?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.