Who is your neighbour?
Back in the earlier days, when I was still a kid, there were at least three gospel stories which we all knew: the Nativity story, the Prodigal son, and the story of the Good Samaritan. These three stories were often played in school dramas since they are easy to remember with a clear plot and meaning. The story of the Good Samaritan, for example, was often told since it has a clear message for all the kids: help and love your neighbour. However, the more we reflect on this story, the richer it becomes. It transcends the notion of doing good things for your neighbour. The story tells us about the discussion between Jesus and a lawyer who asked Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied: “How do you understand the law?” Without a doubt, the lawyer answered correctly: “Love God wholeheartedly and your neighbor as yourself”. After getting the affirmation and order to do as he understood, the man pursued Jesus further by asking a very interesting question: “Who is my neighbour?” Eventually, Jesus told the man the parable of a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan; and their response in seeing a wounded victim laying helplessly on the street. As a final conclusion Jesus asked him: “Which of these three was neighbour to the robber’s victim?”
It is quite a straight-forward-multiple-choice question, and all of us should be able to answer it correctly. Likewise, the man seemingly did so. But, did he really? He was not able to acknowledge and express clearly that it was the Samaritan who was the neighbour to the wounded man. Replying to Jesus’ question, he answered “the one who showed mercy on him”. This man was in a dilemma and decided to avoid the word “Samaritan” which to him might be an unclean word. In the first century in ‘Jewish’ context, a Samaritan was considered a heretic, rebel or more, an enemy. Nothing good would come from them. This man, like most of the Jews at that time, must have had a strong prejudice that Samaritans equates wickedness. This man’s answer reflected an irony in his life. He wanted to inherit eternal life; he knew what to observe according to the law. However, he couldn’t apply the teaching when it involves the outsiders, even only with words. Another irony is that this man might not know much about the life of the Samaritans nor might he have a Samaritan friend in his life. But he kept in mind the judgement about them which was carried from one generation to another. We could see how powerful a judgement is. It dwells in our sub-consciousness and affects our words and actions.
The moral of today’s Gospel reflection inspires us in at least two different ways personally and as a community. Firstly, discipleship, according to Luke’s perspective challenges us as Christians to open our minds and hearts to those whom the society – and even the Church- perceives as outsiders or non-believers. Just as the Good Samaritan man was a means of salvation to the victim; saving him and caring for him until full recovery; Jesus highlights that ‘outsiders’ too could become great means of evangelization, leading us to true discipleship . We, as Christians need to work more inclusively with our neighbours to build a better society. Despite our differences, we all have the same heart which longs for God. The story of the Good Samaritan inevitably confronted us to remove all prejudice we might have about others or particular groups of people, which could generate from time to time and even strengthened by the media and society. So, who is your neighbour? As you are reading this, please take a moment to pause and ask yourself, who are these people in my life right now, who are my neighbours?
Fr Thomas Ismoyo