Going the Extra Mile

Going the Extra Mile

Okay, you know who you are. How many times have you done just enough to get by? Whether it be at work, at school or home we have all had those moments where we will give the token amount of time and energy at a particular task. My children know this well. They know just how much food to eat at dinner in order to qualify for desert. Inevitably it is a daily negotiation. They also know, when pressed, the line that needs to be crossed for their room to go from untidy to tidy. This is a story that is familiar in almost any household with children, I’m sure.

At work, we know where we can and cannot cut corners. Depending on our manager we know what we can and cannot get away with. We all know where the line, “good enough” is. From personal experience when we are in work environments that are less favorable or where we are not finding enough satisfaction or appreciation for our work, “good enough is good enough.”            

Our lawyer in today’s Gospel knows this well. We can tell that he is seasoned at working towards what is “good enough.” He wants to know the check list that needs to be done. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks (Luke 10: 25). I always imagine him standing with a pad and pen, ready to jot down the list that Jesus gives him. Jesus, in typical rabbinic tradition, answers with a question. The thing is, the lawyer and Jesus both know the right answer and they both know that the other knows that. The answer is simple and easy, love God and love your neighbor. The lawyer has already done that, he loves God and loves his neighbors and cares for them deeply. Instead of leaving it there, the lawyer goes on to justify that his understanding and practice is exactly what Jesus is thinking by asking who is his neighbor (Luke 10: 29). We can almost imagine his confidence growing at this point. He has the inside track with Jesus; the two of them are on the same page.            

Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. We know the parable well of how a man is beaten and left half dead on the side of the road. People come and pass by, of note a priest and a Levite pass by. They will have nothing to do with the man lying on the road. It is only when a Samaritan, a foreigner, comes that something happens. The Samaritan is someone whom we would least expect takes pity on the man as he is a foreigner. The question at the end of the day is: “Who was a neighbor to the man?” (Luke 10: 36). The answer is the Samaritan, “the one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10: 37).            

Oops, well that is harder to do. Show mercy, be a neighbor to those we least expect. This is not what the lawyer was expecting. He was anticipating Jesus to validate all the ways he has shown mercy and been a neighbor to those he knows and associates with. The people who live and work and think just like him. You know; those who are pleasant company. But what about the others? What about those people he and for that matter we find particularly nasty? The very people who we see on the street and everything in us wants to cross over to the other side. People and situations where we think to ourselves, “If we just ignore them and pretend they aren’t there, then they will go away.”            

This strikes at us deeper. It is easy to love the people in our lives who are easy to love. We can all be and are good neighbors and show mercy to those whom we get along with. But that is the easy part. We can all check those boxes confident that what we have done is “good enough” and indeed it is “good enough.” But that is all it is.            

This passage strikes at what is our purpose as a church. We live in a day and age where people question the validity of every kind of institution. People are suspicious of institutions and they want to know what and how they can benefit them and the world, the Church is no exception. In many cases the Church is held to a higher standard.            

Indeed many people, probably many of us, find ourselves at one point or another moving away from institutions. There are so many people who say that they don’t have a problem with Spirituality or faith, rather they have a problem with organized religion. They will usually say that they find God and get their Spiritual nourishment from nature, climbing mountains or even with friends. Absolutely this is where God and Spiritual nourishment can be found. However the same question applies: what do you do when you come down from the mountain again? How do we live and work in the world around us when we are not on the mountain. All practices can fall into the same trap of being self-serving or only reaching the ‘right people.’ Jesus urges the lawyer and us to go further and reach out towards ‘the other’ whoever that may be as well. We are all the beloved Children of God and perhaps in a day and age when institutions are questioned the Church can and should play a pivotal role in breaking stereotypes and demonstrating that ‘good enough’ is no longer ‘good enough’.