July 15, 2019
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) on July 14, 2019 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; and Luke 10:25-37.
Today, we hear a familiar parable. If we find it to be a comforting story, we may be missing the point. Jesus challenges us to vastly expand our ideas of who in the world is worthy of our love.
When most of us hear the word “Samaritan” in any context, we immediately think of the good guy in the parable in today’s gospel. But in Jesus’ time, Jews hated Samaritans. And by the time of Luke, things had gotten worse: Samaritans had massacred Jews, and Jews had massacred Samaritans. Jews would have bristled at the idea that a Samaritan could be good, let alone someone worthy to be loved.
So, when we get right down to it, the parable of the Good Samaritan is about confronting prejudice. Let us open our hearts widely today, trying to match the compassion of God. May God grant us mercy, even when we struggle to grant mercy to our neighbors!
For the members of Jesus’ audience, their Jewish identity was much more comprehensive than many of us realize. Their religious identity was Jewish. Their ethnic identity was Jewish. Their political identity was Jewish. So, Jews would have been upset to hear that a priest and a Levite – two men who embodied that triple-identity of Jewishness – did not treat a fellow Jew as their neighbor. But then to hear that an enemy Samaritan would take the time, endure the physical risks, and put his own money on the line because he was moved with compassion for a Jewish man? They would have been shocked, and perhaps even outraged, that Jesus would suggest that the Samaritan was the true neighbor.
Who would Jesus Christ say are our neighbors today? We can list whole categories of people who’d we prefer to think as being different than us, rather than being our fellow humans: those who are homeless, sick, lonely, hungry, or hurting, those who are discriminated because of their sexual orientation, or those who adhere to other world religions. But today, I’m thinking especially about the millions of people who live in violent parts of the world, including the tens of thousands of refugees1 who have fled those places only to be held in inhumane conditions in the United States2 while awaiting a hearing. This is not intended as a “political” homily: wherever we sit on the political spectrum, I intend to make us all uncomfortable! The online version of this homily will include footnotes, if you would like to learn more.
Our immigration system has been broken for decades… but our government has failed to muster the political will to try to address the fundamental problems in all their complexity. The last serious attempt at comprehensive immigration reform was headed up by Texas’ own Barbara Jordan, who died in 1996.3
There are nearly 71 million forcibly displaced people in the world,4 so there is no solution to this crisis that is going to make us feel good. On one hand, as the Church has affirmed since at least 1891,5 people have the right to cross international borders in order to better provide for their families. On the other hand, there are genuine concerns about people entering the United Stated without undergoing a security screening.6
As callous as it sounds, the United States cannot reasonably take all these people in. Nor is it reasonable to expect our country to singlehandedly resolve the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, or South Sudan, the gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala, the religious persecutions in China, Myanmar, or Eritrea, or the general breakdown of governments in Venezuela, Somalia, the Central African Republic, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is unreasonable to tell these desperate people “to come here the right way, like our grandparents did.” It’s impossible to compare today’s immigration system with that of the early 20th century.7 Today, unskilled people with no close relatives in the United States have no pathway to citizenship here, unless they cross into U.S. territory and then request asylum.8 Sadly, the percentage of people being denied asylum has risen in recent years,9 perhaps because it’s very difficult for people to provide physical evidence that they have been threatened by gangs or persecuted for their faith.
It’s also unreasonable to say that these desperate people have the resources to fix the problems in their own countries the way the American colonists did in the 18th century.10
Lastly, it is unreasonable to say that we shouldn’t allow anyone to immigrate to the United States until after we build a 30-foot tall, 2,000-mile border wall, house all of our homeless veterans, or solve the American opioid crisis.
It also seemed unreasonable that Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of his parable, but that’s what he did. I don’t think our nation will ever comprehensively address the immigration crisis unless we start seeing everyone involved as our neighbor: the refugees desperate to provide safety and economic security to their families, the unemployed and underemployed U. S. citizens threatened by the influx of new workers, the politicians frightened that offering mercy will be perceived by their constituents as being “soft on crime,” the school teachers overwhelmed by over-crowded classrooms, and the law-enforcement officials flummoxed by inadequate resources and contradictory directives.
If we asked Jesus who our neighbor is today, I can imagine him responding to us with a parable about a Texas rancher who came to Austin and was robbed, beaten, and left for dead in a dangerous neighborhood. An elderly representative from the Texas state house came by and saw the rancher, but he told his limo driver to keep going. A young businessman visiting town saw the rancher, but he told his Uber driver to keep going. But a Salvadoran immigrant who had entered the country improperly, walking back from his night-shift janitorial job, saw the rancher, ran to get the help of his friends, loaded him in their truck, and took him to the Dell-Seton emergency room, knowing that such action would lead to a police investigation that could reveal their immigration status. Who was the neighbor to the rancher?
Jesus’ parable makes it clear: God’s compassion has no bounds, and our own compassion should expand to all of God’s children.
Can we solve the challenges of immigration? Not completely, but
I am convinced that we as a nation could be much more compassionate than we have been over the past several decades.
As Moses proclaimed to the people in our first reading: “this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you…. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts.” God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have only to carry it out.
https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/detention-statistics Accessed 12 July 2019. ↩
- https://time.com/5611521/lawyers-inhumane-conditions-border-dentention/ Accessed 12 July 2019. ↩
- Read “U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform” section of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Jordan . Accessed 09 July 2019. For more details, listen to “Where Have You Gone, Barbara Jordan? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You,” Act One of episode #655 of This American Life. Broadcast 11 January 2019. ↩
- https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html . Accessed 12 July 2019. ↩
- From Rerum Novarum, the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII considered to be the “Magna Carta” of Catholic Social Teaching. Promulgated 15 May 1891. ↩
- https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=731927 . Accessed 12 July 2019. ↩
- https://www.history.com/news/immigrants-ellis-island-short-processing-time . Accessed 09 July 2019. In 1907, the United States admitted 10,000 immigrants at Ellis Island per day, with most people being screened in admitted in less than 5 hours. Only 2% of immigrants were rejected, and anyone who stayed overnight was given three meals a day for free. In 1980, the Carter administration set a cap of 231,000 immigrants, more than 600 per day. While the Trump administration set the cap for refugee admissions in 2018 to 45,000, it admitted only roughly 22,500 immigrants, about 60 immigrants per day. ↩
- Easy-to-read explanation of how the U.S. legal immigration process works: http://www.openlawlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/IMmigration-Law-Comic-Terry-Colon-Reason.jpg . Accessed 22 June 2018. ↩
- https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/448/ . Note especially Figure 2, showing the difference in rejection rates for those asylees with and without legal representation. Accessed 12 July 2019. ↩
- Three major differences between the situation in various Latin American countries in the 21st century and the American colonies in the 18th century: (1) The American revolutionaries included wealthy, well-educated landowners. Our Latin American neighbors seeking asylum are mostly poor and uneducated. (2) The British government was 3,000 miles away, and it chose to give up the American colonies in order to save their much-more profitable colonies in Gibraltar, the West Indies, and India that were being attacked by Spain, France, and the Netherlands at the same time as the American Revolution. Our Latin American neighbors are oppressed by governments and gangs in their own neighborhoods. (3) The American revolutionaries had the assistance of a military superpower, France. In recent years, the closest superpower to Latin America – the United States – has drastically cut its resources devoted to diplomacy and international assistance. ↩