This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 10:25–37:
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Who are our neighbors, and how do they bring us to the love of God?
Readers of my original blog Captain’s Quarters will recall that my wife has had multiple transplants, the last of which took place in 2007 when the kidney that she received from a close friend in 2004 failed unexpectedly the year before. Marcia was very sick for almost a year, but another close friend volunteered to donate his kidney to bring her back to health. He and his wife had been part of Marriage Encounter and had actually trained us to be a “team couple” within the group seven years earlier.
For those of us who have the blessings of this kind of offer, it can be very humbling and even daunting to accept. One worry is how other family members of the donor will feel about their husband and father risking his own health to help out a friend. In this case, though, Rich’s wife Janean and their two children didn’t just support the decision, they celebrated it with us.
During the weeks of examinations and testing, they embraced us with love and joy; in the waiting room during surgery, they lifted my spirits and gave thanks to God for the opportunity to be part of such life-giving efforts. Rich had a little rougher recovery than expected, but had no complications and returned to full speed on schedule. Even so, their entire family remained so upbeat and positive that it made it much easier for Marcia to recover, too. Nine years later, the kidney is still chugging along marvelously. I owe my wife’s life to Rich, Janean, and their family.
All this comes to mind because Janean died suddenly this week as a result of a traffic accident. The two of them had not been part of Marriage Encounter for a while, and so we had drifted out of close contact. The news that a woman so vital and full of joy as Janean had been suddenly taken out of the world came as a shock, especially one who so embodied love of God and love of neighbor.
As tragic as this was, the hand of the Lord still worked through it. We arranged to attend the funeral Mass on Friday to celebrate Janean’s life. We heard her now-grown daughter deliver a beautiful eulogy to her mother that reminded us of all Janean’s gifts, and how she used them to the fullest. We also found ourselves among other friends with whom we had fallen out of touch, also drawn back to spend some final moments with Janean. Without a doubt, Janean herself would have been delighted to know that she was once again the catalyst for friendship and love … and somewhere, I know she does know it.
When I reflect on today’s Gospel and the parable of the good Samaritan, Rich and Janean (and Marcia’s prior donor Mary and her husband Roger, also good friends of ours) come to mind. Of course, we were not strangers on the side of the road, but neither were we part of their responsibilities until they chose to stop and give of themselves. On numerous occasions, we discuss the specific definition of caritas love, the self-giving and self-sacrificing love that the Lord has for all of us. In an almost literal way, that is precisely the kind of love Rich, Janean, Mary, and Roger have for us.
Most of all, their example reflects on today’s first reading from Deuteronomy about the immediacy of loving God and loving our neighbors. “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you,” Moses told the Israelites. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
God wants us to love as He does, directed toward those whom God also loves, in order that we may all stand together with Him, and those whom He loves are all around us. Janean did a lot of mission work in central America, but she applied that caritas love at home as well as abroad. We are not called into the sky or across the sea alone to serve the Lord and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to do that where we stand, among those we know as well as those who may be more like strangers and visitors to us.
Friday’s celebration of Janean’s life provided us all a reminder of that. Our old friends will get together with us in a few weeks to catch up properly, and to share a small piece of what Janean and Rich shared with all of us so abundantly. For too brief a time, Janean showed us a glimpse of the love of God — and we will never, ever forget it.
Requiescat in pace, Janean.
Addendum: For more information on living donor transplants, HHS has an information website. The University of Minnesota Medical Center Transplant Center, through which Marcia has had most of her transplants, has its own informational website. The Mayo Clinic has information specific to living-donor transplants.
The front page image is “The Good Samaritan Attending to the Wounded Traveler at the Inn,” Giovanni Battista Langetti (1635-76). Now on display at National Trust, Osterley Park, London, UK.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.