Where does justice end and charity begin? Are we required to give to the poor in justice or in charity? The Fathers of the Church, such as St John Chrysostom (344-407), argued that any excess wealth we posses is really the property of the poor. God intends the goods of creation to be used for the well being of all people, and therefore anything we possess beyond our own needs should in justice be given to the poor.
This has continued to be the consistent teaching of the Church throughout the ages. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII, in his famous encyclical Rerum Novarum, whilst affirming the right to own private property, also speaks of the duty to use private property for the common good.
In today's Gospel we hear one of the most powerful of Jesus's parables; the story of the Good Samaritan. As the man lies half dead on the road a priest and a Levite pass by on the other side. Perhaps they are afraid of touching a half-dead man and infringing laws of purity, or maybe they think that stopping might put their own lives in danger. Whatever their reasons, we are right to feel scandalised by their actions. Here are the very men who represent the Law and the justice of God, yet when it comes to putting that Law into action they are found wanting.
In today's first reading Moses tells the people that the Law of God is not beyond their power 'the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance'. What is required of the priest and the Levite is not some super-human feat, but what should come naturally to us as human beings; justice moved in compassion.
It is the Samaritan who shows the truly human reaction to this stricken man, caring for his wounds and transporting him to a place of safety and rest. The contrast is calculated to shock. Those who represent the Law are given a lesson in how to keep the Law by one who is deemed to be outside it. Their lack of compassion shows how shallow the Law is in their hearts, and the half-dead man on the road reveals the deeper disfigurement of the humanity in their own hearts.
So is the Samaritan responding in justice or in charity? Certainly there is a question of justice here; although the Samaritan is not responsible for the half-dead man's plight he is still required to respond to his basic human needs. Yet the Samaritan goes beyond what is required in justice: he tells the inn keeper that he will pay for all the man's expenses. Surely this goes beyond anything justice might require.
The Fathers of the Church saw in the story of the Good Samaritan the pattern of our lives and if we look carefully it is not difficult to see why. The stricken man is an image of our own fallen nature; bowed down and bleeding, unable to raise ourselves from the dust. The priest and the Levite are our disfigured hearts; our inability to reach out in compassion to heal and carry others.
It is Jesus Christ who enters this world in mercy and love to bring healing and to carry us to his Father; healing our wounds through his precious blood, and lifting us to the Father in his resurrection.
What does this teach us about following Jesus Christ? Firstly, we must continually work for justice. Each of us is baptised into the Kingship of Christ and therefore in a special way we each represent the justice of God's Kingdom.
Secondly, we are to go beyond the requirements of justice, giving our lives in love without measure for others. This we can only do through the grace of Jesus Christ, who raises us to heaven by making us part of his body, the Church. As St Paul tells the Colossians in today's second reading: 'God wanted all things to be reconciled through Him and for Him, everything in heaven and on earth, when he made peace by his death on the cross.'
The love of Jesus Christ carries us beyond the requirements of justice, bringing peace and healing where hope has been lost, and lifting us to the immeasurable joys of heaven.