And Who Is My Neighbor?

ImageIn the corporate world, managers rely a lot on job descriptions and performance standards to ensure that their subordinates are doing the right things expected of them, effectively and efficiently. There are probably times when people perhaps also wished there were similar job descriptions and performance standards when it comes to our spiritual life. The Israelites, wanting to be faithful to God and their covenant with him, drew up something close to that – a list of laws (more than 600 of them) to guide them in life. The priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan were merely following this Mosaic Law when they passed by the opposite side of the road as they saw the man who has fallen upon some robbers – beat, stripped and left for dead. Attending to this man would have made both the priest and the Levite unclean to offer sacrifices.

Who is my neighbor? Jesus cuts to the chase and distills the whole Law into love of God and love of neighbor. A neighbor, like the Good Samaritan, is one who would help some one in need and show compassion, even when this might sometime mean doing something not legal. In the news today is the acquittal of Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot Trayvon Martin dead. Already there are protests in the streets and people are afraid of these escalating into “Rodney King riots” all over again. There is anger, there are calls for justice. Things would not have come to this if there were only more love and more compassion from the beginning. Then, Martin would not have died. But that is all water under the bridge and as passions and anger begin to rise over the not guilty verdict of Zimmerman, it is a right and timely to reflect deeply on the Gospel for today and ask myself: “Who is my neighbor?”

There is another public debate going on today on immigrants. Are immigrants my neighbors? There are those who would invoke the law and say deport all illegal and undocumented immigrants. There are those who would say the law is antiquated and does not reflect the deep immigrant roots of American society anymore; and therefore changes should be made to the law.  Last week, Pope Francis visited the island of Lampedusa in a very symbolic gesture to call for love and compassion for immigrants from Africa wanting to enter Europe. His message was clear: Yes, they are our neighbors.

These are very touchy and thorny subjects and they challenge us to truly reflect on the question: “Who is my neighbor?”

Deep inside we know the answer. “It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts;you have only to carry it out.”And what is that? The lawyer in the story in today’s Gospel gives us the answer. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ And the lawyer replies with “And who is my neighbor?”

This is the second Sunday that the words and deeds of the Pope deeply echo the Gospel. Last week, he called on priests and religious to live simpler and humbler lives. And the Gospel reading then was about those whom Jesus had sent forth not to carry money bags nor sacks nor sandals. Today, the reading on the Good Samaritan is echoed in the Pope’s Good Samaritan visit to island of Lampedusa.

Last week, the Pope also issued his first encyclical where he talked about Faith. The world would be a better place if more people followed Christ’s Gospel of love and compassion. To heed Christ’s call, one must first believe. Pope Francis tells us in Lumen Fidei: “Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets.” I must go and do likewise.

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”
Luke 10:25-37

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4 Responses to And Who Is My Neighbor?

  1. Raoul says:

    Hi Verne. In other translations of the Bible, the question of Jesus is cast this way: “Which of them HAS MADE himself neighbor to the wounded man?” I prefer it because it conveys the truth better that loving others requires EFFORT and DETERMINATION, sometimes tremendous effort and determination, and in a few cases in the face of opposition from your own family….. Again thank you for sharing your Sunday thoughts; I will not be surprised if for many of us they are now part of our Monday spiritual readings.

    • Yes, indeed, love is a decision. It is the decision to do good by and for others despite the difficulties and obstacles. As a lawyer, you must have ofter struggle with the seeming contradiction between the demands of the law (e.g. justice, retribution) and the demands of love (e.g. mercy, compassion). Yet, in your wisdom, you have probably found a way of seeing complementarity instead of contradiction between justice and mercy, between the law and love.

  2. Martin says:

    At the risk of sounding too ecumenical, I think this is the root of all the great faith traditions — expanding the scope of one’s concerns to include the Other, so that the Other is as valued as the Self. We are exhorted to recognize our common humanity and the obstacles and hardships we all share, and are urged to respond with compassion and mercy.

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