Sunday, 10 July: “Turn”

Reading – Psalm 69:33

Van Gogh Samaritan
“The Good Samaritan,” oil on canvas, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Instead of reflecting on the reading selected for evening prayer tonight (Romans 12:17-21, if you’re interested), I am writing on the Psalm chosen for today’s mass, specifically its response: “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.”

For those of us who are Christian, it is obvious that we as humans depend on God for our existence and cannot reach the flourishing or fulfillment of this this existence without Her. How does the Psalm relate to the Gospel for today, however? Imagine being the man traveling to Jericho was was robbed on his journey, as described in Jesus’ parable. Wouldn’t you address words like those found in Psalm 69 to God, pleading for help from the One who “hears the poor” and does not spurn “his own who are in bonds” (36)?

In the parable and in real life, God comes to the rescue; She is always faithful and loving toward us. Jesus tells us something more in his parable, however. God often comes to our aid through means and people we would not expect to be conduits of Her grace or channels of Her love. Recall that the Samaritan of the story is not the victim but rather the savior of the victim. How would you as a devout Jew react to being saved (or being told that you were saved, once regaining consciousness in the inn) by a Samaritan, one of your traditional enemies?

To use some more modern examples, how would you as a white supremacist react to being saved by a person of color, or an affluent individual being saved by someone homeless? How about a diehard Democrat being saved by an equally ardent Republican; a pro-life advocate by a pro-choice activist; a conservative Christian by a member of the LGBT community; an opponent of gender changes by a transgender person; an anti-Semite by a Jew?

All of these examples, like almost all of Jesus’ parables, throw us off our regular track of thinking and behaving. That’s their purpose.

In upsetting our worldview, these experiences and illustrations remind us that God can never be fully understood or in any way encapsulated by us, that any “special interests” God has are not for the privileged but rather the poor and ostracized, that God is mystery and Her ways are mysterious. In these moments of the Divine breaking into our world in an unexpected way, we still have free will, a choice: We can either struggle to embrace this new and disconcerting presence of God in our lives, or we can reject it and remain where we are spiritually.

This is where turning comes in. The Psalmist and Jesus both encourage us to turn to the Lord in all of our needs, that we may not be dead in the spirit but live and live fully. The face of God may be glimpsed in the face of one we have abhorred or insulted in secret or in public; still, we must turn to it and let the experience change us, augment our understanding of God, and foster our growth in holiness.

These moments of invitation, the extension of God’s bountiful grace to us, can and often are very small – short episodes of confusion and realization that, if we let them, can expand our horizons and our hearts. We must turn in these moments as much as we do in more extraordinary encounters, like that of the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable.

We need to continue in the path of learning more about God and letting God disassemble, rearrange, and add to our understanding and love of Her and Her creation. We need God’s help, and we need to accept it.

If we consistently turn away from instead of to God, if we always reject a shocking or puzzling way God comes to us, if we say “No thanks; I can do this by myself” to God’s offers of assistance, if we rely on ourselves and our comfortable ways instead of God’s ways and Her ways of working through others, the tremendous Otherness of God that we face after death will only terrify us, not delight us. We will have put ourselves in hell and rejected the divine invitation to heaven. How can we turn to God and accept Her in the next life if we cannot or will not do so in this life?

God reveals Herself each day to us in numerous moments and people, asking us to let Her help, to let Her give us life. Let us pray for the courage, humility, and zeal to look for, notice, and embrace these encounters and individuals of grace, even (perhaps especially) if they discomfit or jar our expectations. Let us turn, Lord, that we may live. ~

P.S. James Martin recently gave a fantastic (and more coherent) video reflection on the Good Samaritan. You can find it on his Facebook page (it’s the 10 July post). Happy viewing!

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