“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the NAME, your God, listening to his voice, and holding fast to him.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20
As Christians we like to make mention of the famed 613 commandments of Jewish tradition. This is one of them., “Boker Chaim,” “Choose life.” How is this a command we can live with? What is life? When we speak of living we speak of more than subsistence. We speak of going out and doing things, living. John 4:10 has Jesus answer the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Living water is opposed to stagnant well water which does not move. Living water moves. It is alive. There is something vibrant, vivacious, about it. So it is with life.
A rabbi once wrote in the Jerusalem Post, and against abortion. All life is life in potentiality. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 tells us to look for that potentiality in all people. The pro-choice crowd argued that life begins with the first breath. The rabbi argued from this, “maybe so,” but if the unborn is not alive, it is potential life and God calls us to bring this potential life to completion.” The pro-choice argument becomes mute at that point.
Then comes the person sitting very near our front door, hungry, without a home, and without adequate clothing or transportation. In a very real sense, that person is in the same position as the fetus, but is full of potential life. God commands, “Choose life,” for that person, for every person before us.
A month ago, in our Mass for the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, we read of the deviant woman. Simon would chastise Jesus for allowing this deviant under his table to wash his feet. Jesus asks, “Do you see this woman?” The answer is, “No!” He does not see her. He sees an occupation. He sees her past, not her.
This brings us to our first reading for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Deuteronomy 30, again, this time versus 10-14. “This command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
The problem in our society, in Great Britain with Brixit, and with many other nations is that we do not see the woman. We see concepts: the Samaritan Woman, Muslim, Jew, foreigner, poor, lazy people, homeless, and the list goes on. The command of Deuteronomy 30 is clear, and it is simple. Take off the blinders and look.
That is what Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone did when he saw a leper, Mitzrah Lebbroso, on the road. He looked past the sores covering Lebbroso, and past whatever Mitzrah Lebbroso did in the past. He saw instead, Mitzrah Lebbroso. In our Franciscan tradition we also read of Lupo Gubbio, Gubbio’s Wolf. Here is the classic example for those who would argue some are just too evil to love. Here is the classic example of Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone saying, “Not so fast.” Even here is someone to love.”
The answer to the great command of life is not in the sky, or in some foreign land. The answer is in our hearts, if we but first put away our concepts and look. Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone and his heart gave him the answer to the moral question of the moment, the age, and all ages.
We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, or reading for the Fifteen the Sunday of Ordinary Time. A man travels from the City of Peace to the Moon. Jerusalem means, “City of Peace,” and “Jericho,” is Hebrew for, “the moon.” He falls upon robbers. Then a priest comes by. He does not see Vittima DiRapina, a human being. He sees ritual impurity. The same with the Levite. Then comes the Samaritan, the lowest of the low, with nothing to prove. Ritual impurity is not part of his life. He is Samaritan, not Priest or Levite. All there is for the Samaritan to see is Vittima DiRapina, and that is who he sees.
He has no place to look for beautiful and noble behavior but in his heart. His heart told him what to do. We know the rest of the story. He not only takes care to make sure Vittima DiRapina lives, but pays his hospital bill as well. The lawyer, living in concepts, asks, “Who is my neighbor.” Jesus answer is clear. Put away the concepts! See the woman! See Mitzrah Lebbroso. See Vittima DiRapina! See Lupo Gubbio. See them in every person you come across. You are repulsed by what you see? You are not looking hard enough. Every person has the image of God implanted within them. Every person is life in potentiality.