But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
Ecce Homo: What is a Man? – Luke 10:41
I was blessed to grow up with the experience of having some terrific friends right down the street from us until about 6th grade. When we are young, we have an incredible ability to get to know others. Though we were different in many ways, my friends and I shared much in common. This made it possible for our friendship to continue even beyond the time we moved away from that street. In fact, the friendships I developed on Sunflower Trail continue to this day. I was at their wedding, and they were at my ordination. We have a lot in common – as the saying goes, you cannot make old friends. But you can make new ones.
Friendship and the consequent feelings and choices are always based on some common good. This common good unites the will of true friends in a way that they repeatedly choose the good of one another. Our natural inclination, proximity, and many other factors dispose us to natural friendship with other people.
It is through repeated acts of friendship then that people become friends. These are the friendships of our youth, which are primarily based on usefulness and utility. This was certainly true growing up on Sunflower Trail; we spent time together and found fun and mutual help from one another. A friendship develops because one person acts as a friend to another, and this action is reciprocated.
The excellence of the friendship thus depends on the good pursued by friends. Aristotle would say that friendship is best when it has as its object the best good, the highest things. For him, this means virtue and the flourishing of the friends in common.
But Christians, unlike Aristotle, have (or ought to have) a higher purpose in mind in friendship. Natural friendship should not be despised but is not sufficient for us. Our desire is for God; our hope, in fact, is to be friends with God. Thomas Aquinas says that charity is nothing other than friendship with God.
But how is such a thing possible? What common ground is the basis for our friendship with God? What unites the creature with his Creator?
Indeed, we could not do this ourselves. Instead, God takes the initiative in the Incarnation.When the Second person of the Holy Trinity takes our nature to himself without a change in himself, he heals us, and He raises humanity to himself to be his neighbors – to be his friends.
This is the highest meaning of the parable beyond any ethical or moral imperatives – that Christ himself is the Good Samaritan who finds you and me wounded and naked on the side of the road. Our nakedness was the result of having lost the original justice – that free gift of grace in which humanity was constituted. The wounds represent the harm done to our nature as a result.
Finding us in such a miserable condition, Christ cleanses our wounds with the saving bulb of the oil of gladness and with the wine which is symbolic of his own blood. He binds the wounds healing us through the sacraments and relationship with him. He, himself, picks us up and places us upon the beast of his humanity, which is the instrument of our Salvation. Then he takes us to the end of the church and pays the cost of our continued healing, our continued divinization.
In other words, brothers and sisters, God makes us his neighbors, and he does so by being a friend to us despite our rejection of his pleas. Again, and again he offers himself to us, making the first movement of friendship.
For concrete proof of this, we need to look no further than the Sacraments. All the sacraments point us to friendship with Christ. In baptism, he first regenerated our nature that we might be his friends. By Confirmation, we were strengthened by the spirit to be able to act as his friends – to bear him witness in the world. In reconciliation, our friendship with him is restored if we have lost it. In the anointing of the sick, he comes as a friend to visit us when we are weary tired, ill, or dying. In marriage, our friendship with him is expanded as he gives new life to his church. In holy orders, he chooses men to be sharers in his very priesthood. And above all, the sacrament of the Eucharist is the sacrament of friendship. Aristotle said that it is the quality of friends that they live a common life. In the Eucharist we do just that with God. In the Eucharist, we have a foretaste of that union which we will have in heaven one day.
In every way, Christ is the Good Samaritan who makes us his neighbors. Then he tells us to go and do likewise. This highest perspective in no way diminishes the importance of the imperative, which also follows from it. Christ says, “you are my friends if you do what I command you.” Christ commands us to imitate him by extending God’s friendship to others.
By being like the Samaritan, we also can bring relief to those in need physically, perhaps, and this is a good thing. But all the more, we can bring them to Christ, who is the one that every soul desires. Our supernatural friendship with Christ, compels us to want to bring others into that friendship so they can share that joy.
A friend of mine’s young son asked me a couple of years ago, “who is your best friend?” I said to him, Jesus. He then asked his dad the same question, and his dad replied the same way. I told the child, “that’s why your dad and I are such good friends. Because we have the same best friend.” My friendship with his father finds its basis in the Lord. My friend helped me be friends with his best friend, Jesus, and it did not take anything away from our human friendship, but rather elevated it. Our friendship is more excellent, more beautiful, and truer than any merely natural friendship because we are both turned towards the Lord.
We are called to invite others to become our neighbors by being their neighbors as Christ did for us. Then we must invite them to meet our best friend, the Good Samaritan, the one who raises us up, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever.
Questions for us to ponder:
- Do I recognize Christ as the Good Samaritan who comes to me? What wounds do I need to let him heal and bind? Have I left the inn of the Church – if not physically, spiritually – by willfully commiting grave sin?
- Do I recognize that Jesus is both my Lord and my friend? (How) Am I spending time with my Friend through prayer and regular reception of the sacraments? How can I actively work to grow in the virtues so I can be a better friend?
- When am I most tempted to act like the priest and the Levite and refuse to treat someone as my neighbor? How can I act differently in the future?
Today’s readings can be found here: https://www.missalemeum.com/en/2020-08-23
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(12th Sunday after Pentecost, Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite)