Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C


In the 1970’s, two Princeton University psychologists performed a study to determine what factors would impact an individual’s impulse to help someone in need. They met with a group of students from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and asked each to prepare a brief talk on a given topic and then walk across campus to present it to a group of students.

On the way to present the talk, the psychologists had arranged for each subject to come across a man who was lying down in an alley, coughing and groaning. Obviously, they were interested in observing how many of the students would stop to help.

As with any good study, the psychologists introduced some variables into the scenario. Before the experiment started, each student was asked why they chose to study theology. Were they seeking personal and spiritual fulfillment, or were they looking for a tool that would help them find meaning in life? The psychologists also varied the topic that the students were to talk about. Some were asked to talk about how the relevance of the clergy to religious vocation. Others were asked to speak about the parable of the Good Samaritan. Finally, as each student was sent across campus to give their talk, some were told they were running late, and others were ahead of schedule.

The results were stunning. It did not matter why the students were studying theology. It did not even matter if they student had just finished preparing a talk on the Prodigal Son! The only thing that had an impact on whether a given student would stop to render aid was whether or not they thought they were late! Of the group that was told they were running ahead of schedule, 63% stopped to help. Only 10% of those who thought they were late stopped!

I am pretty sure that the priest and the Levite were not bad people. Like most of use, they most likely were caring and compassionate. However, they were focused on something else when the time came to put their faith into action. They most certainly saw the need, but were able to rationalize reasons not to act.

It is easy to take away the message of this week’s Gospel. We should view everyone as our neighbor. Just as God loves all of creation, we should show love, mercy and compassion to all those we meet. Acting on that message is the tricky part. We have all heard the phrase “What would Jesus Do?” In most cases, we can come up with the answer pretty easily. It is not so easy to take the next step.

It isn’t safe. Someone else is expecting me. Someone else will help. How often have you found yourself in the position of those seminary students? The priest? The Levite? I know I have more often than I care to admit.

Those who need our help may not exhibit the need in the same dramatic ways depicted in today’s Gospel or the Princeton experiment. They may be family members, close friends, co-workers, mere acquaintances or even perfect strangers. However, in each and every one of them, we sense that something is not right. We are faced with an opportunity to reach out and help. It may be as simple as providing a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to lean on. A smile or kind word will do just as much for someone who is having a bad day as the Good Samaritan’s generous care for the injured traveler.

Living the Gospel can be a challenge for many reasons. However, we often make it harder than it has to be. We often identify the Christian life with dramatic, grand gestures. It does not have to be that way. We do not need to change water into wine, or cure blindness, or raise someone from the dead in order to be Christ’s presence on earth.

Growing up, I had a pastor who always used to refer to the ‘salami approach’. He advised that we should take on a challenge “one thin slice at a time” Living the Gospel is a challenge that is best lived using the salami approach. We don’t all have to start out acting like the Good Samaritan. However, if we don’t start somewhere, we will find ourselves stepping over opportunities to be Christ for one and other.

We will always be running late to something. But so often, in that rush, opportunities to be on time for God abound! We just need to keep the eyes of our heart open.

No comments: