DON’T be nice

There is a phrase that has been widely used to unite the people of The United States, especially during World War II; later that century it was adopted as the national motto. This phrase, which calls on the spirit of the founding fathers of this country, is familiar to us all: “In God we trust.”

In recent times, the media rarely uses the word “God” anymore, and when they do it is often in a challenging tone. After the September 11th attacks, a question the media asked over and over again was, “Where is God now?” Variations on this theme were also common: “Where was God in this tragedy?” or “Does God’s light guide us or blind us?” or “Why didn’t God save us?” The media invokes a God that has the power to stop would-be terrorists and murderers in their tracks; the media’s God can see the evil in the heart of a person, and then decides whether or not to intervene.

God gave us freedom; God entrusts us with the gift of freedom. But we have relegated God to the private domain. We’ve closed up God, or the “idea” of God, and locked it away in churches, in temples, and in the household. We don’t speak of God publicly. Evidence of this is visible in what I call ” the culture of nice.” Many of us grew up in this culture of “being nice.” The word “nice” comes from the Latin nescio, which literally means “stupid.” This puts into perspective what people are saying when they tell us that we should “be nice”, because to be nice is really to “play dumb.” If you see something that bothers you, that doesn’t go according to your values, “Play dumb!” If you see something that you believe is not right but need to tolerate, “Play dumb!” If you think things should be a certain way, if you see truth needs to be lived this way and it’s not, “Play dumb!” But we pay a high price for playing dumb, because by doing so we distance ourselves from living Truth, and  from helping others to do so too; we also start locking up God in ourselves.

The word “charity,” in this sense, would be the opposite of “nice.” We can love someone and at the same time challenge them. Think of the love between parents and children, between true friends, or between spouses. We can love another person without always agreeing with their behaviors or actions; in fact we have a responsibility to challenge and confront behaviors that in conscience we perceive as harmful.

We hear in today’s Psalm about “the fear of the Lord.” (Ps 69) Biblically this “fear of the Lord,” doesn’t literally mean to be “afraid” of God; it doesn’t mean we should be terrified that He is going to punish us. But rather, the fear of the Lord that the Bible speaks of is the recognition that God is God, and that God exists in every dimension of our lives, in our politics, in our social life, in our personal life, in our sexuality, in our workplace, in our friendships; God’s presence imbibes everything.

In the Gospel, Jesus poses a challenge. A teacher of the law is listening to the message of Christ, and as he listens we can see his excitement building: he is inflamed by the message of Jesus. Then, suddenly, he stands up and he says, “But what must I do?” (Lk 10:25) What must I do? All that sounds nice and beautiful, the young man must be thinking, but what must I do? In response Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). Here Jesus presents to us three loves: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self.

I would like to invite you to reflect on our love for God. Could I say that I love God that much? Do I love God with all my mind, with all my being? We love people with all our hearts, and we love our jobs, our dreams, and our plans with all our mind. We dedicate time to our beloved sports and hobbies, and we can love our country. We can even love an idea with all our being. But do we love God with that same intensity? And furthermore, what does it mean to love God? It seems to me that to love God requires, like any other love in our lives, commitment and discipline. To love God requires energy and time. To love God requires talent and treasure. Christianity is not an abstract religion of pure contemplation; in fact, Christianity is  very operative, an eminently practical faith! The young law teacher asked a question: What should I do to love my neighbor as myself? Jesus responded to him with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In those days, Jews and Samaritans were life-long enemies; a Jew could never mingle with a Samaritan. A Jew could never touch a Samaritan, for fear of contamination, so they always kept them at a distance. The Jews believed that their culture was much more noble and pure than that of the Samaritans. And yet in this parable we are confronted with a very striking story; this is the story of a Samaritan man who chose to tend and care for an unknown Jew.

Let us reflect on three aspects of this action:

  • The Samaritan is taking a risk. There was a common ploy to rob people in that time in Palestine, and it was exactly this: a man would lie naked next to the road, eventually, somebody would stop and try to help him, then a band of burglars would jump out to ambush and rob the unsuspecting helper. It was a big risk to stop and help the suffering man; as a traveler he was already vulnerable, and he made himself more so by taking the risk of being attacked by robbers.
  • He put of his own money. It was costly for him. The oil and wine he gave was intended for his trip, but he invested it on this man’s care.
  • It was an inconvenience. This unplanned stop took away the traveler’s time, time that he had planned for his journey. His journey was sidetracked and delayed when he decided to take this man to the inn; he literally went out of his way to help him.

 

Good Samaritan, be nice, nice, charity
Le bon Samaritain — Morot

How quick are we to give of these three gifts? How do we use the gifts of our time, our talent, and our treasure? To be charitable to someone is always going to involve giving of our time, and sometimes our money and talent, too. How zealous we are in protecting our time and our plans! How incapable we are of deviating from what we have established! In the parable of the Good Samaritan, this is the challenge that Jesus presents to us: “Go and do the same” (Lk 10:37). Go and do the same. Then, in your life, as in mine, the phrase, “In God we trust,” becomes “In God I trust.” May this trust in God lead us to grow in our love of neighbor, and in the love of self.

May the Virgin Mary, who was the first tabernacle of the love of God, show us how to be generous with our time, our talent, and our treasure, and help us to respond in charity to the needs of our neighbor.

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