The Irrelevance of Religion in the Eyes of Jesus (Sunday Homily)

Good Sam Pic

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT. 30: 10-14; Ps. 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 34, 36-37; Col. 1: 15-20; Lk. 10: 25-37.

What do you think? Does God care about religion? Does She need it? Do we? Does She even care if we’re Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist?

Today’s Gospel reading – the familiar parable of “The Good Samaritan – seems to answer “no” to all of those questions.

The tale addresses the problems of crime and violence and of proper human response. Surprisingly, the recommended response is not “religious” at all, but humanitarian. It is unadorned motherly compassion by a specifically irreligious actor.

Jesus makes that point by creating a fictional account where the hero is despicable in the eyes of his audience. He is a Samaritan. Meanwhile, the villains of the piece are religious leaders – a priest and a Levite (virulent enemies of the Goddess religions that biblical patriarchs detested). .

In Jesus’ time, Samaritans were social outcasts belonging to a group of renegade Jews who (by Jesus’ time) had been separated from the Jewish community for nearly 1000 years. They were seen as having polluted the Jewish bloodline by intermarrying with the country’s Assyrian conquerors about 700 years earlier. Female goddesses figured prominently in the religions of ancient Assyria.

As a result, Jewish priests and Levites considered Samaritans “unclean;” they were traitors, enemy-sympathizers, heretics and even atheists. They rejected Jewish understandings of the patriarchal Yahweh and the Temple worship that went along with them. For priests and Levites, Yahweh was interested in temple sacrifice and abstract law.

And yet the Good Samaritan is found to be more worthy, more pleasing in God’s eyes than the priest or Levite, who enjoyed great prestige among Jews as “men of God.”

Yes, Jesus prefers the Samaritan because his actions speak much louder than the religious orthodoxy of Israel’s holy men or than the word “Samaritan” would allow. The outcast expresses typically female compassion; so Jesus approves.

In this way, Jesus’ story calls his audience (and us!) to transcend socially prescribed categories, patriarchy, and even religion in dealing with problems of crime and violence. In fact, the crimes addressed in the parable are not primarily robbery and physical abuse. They are indifference, denial, and patriarchy’s religious hypocrisy.

The solution to such crimes along with robbery and violence is not found in religion, theology or temple sacrifices. It lies simply in compassionate action – in “being there” for victims.

As always, then, Jesus’ words invite us to reconsider our very understanding faith, and our favorite categories of “good” and “evil” — and the identity of God Herself.

Perhaps religion is not that important for followers of Jesus after all — nor to the Great Cosmic Mother..

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

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