AND WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ©
My dear encountered couples:
“And who is my neighbor?” asked the lawyer after Jesus told him to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The answer Jesus seems to have given is, “You are your neighbor.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? We think of our neighbors as other people. And they are other people. But I think there’s a hidden lesson here that most of us miss. Even though everybody is your neighbor, when you show love to any one of them, you are also showing love to yourself. For there is nothing that will benefit you more than performing an act of love for another person, for those we usually and correctly call our neighbors.
Let me point out what I’m talking about. When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who helped a man who was beaten up, robbed, and left half dead. Then at the end of the story Jesus asked, “Who was neighbor to the man who fell in with robbers?” And the answer given was: “The one who treated him with compassion.” Ordinarily, we would think Jesus would say the man who was beat up and robbed was the neighbor, and the Samaritan was showing him love by caring for him. But Jesus said the Samaritan man was the one being the neighbor.
By saying that, Jesus was saying we are to imagine ourselves in the position of anyone who is in need and then help them as if we are helping ourselves. We are to put ourselves in the shoes and body of other people and help them with their needs. When we do that we are not only helping them, we are helping ourselves. How are we helping ourselves? We are helping ourselves to become better people, to improve in goodness of character and soul. We are growing in maturity and holiness. And so, by loving others, whom we ordinarily call our neighbors, we are helping ourselves whom we see in our neighbors. We are becoming the neighbor and loving ourselves as well as them. We are loving our neighbors as ourselves. Confused?
When you look into a mirror, whom do you see? Yourself, of course. But Jesus wants you to also see your neighbor. Comb the hair and pretty up the face of the person you see in the mirror and you are combing your hair and prettying up your own face. Help other people you see needing helping and you are helping yourself. Because somehow, just as Jesus lives in everyone, so do you. We all somehow are in each other, we are mirror images of each other, whether it happens because we all descend from the same first parents or because Jesus united us all into one.
However, it happens, it has happened. You and all people are one. When you love them, you are also loving yourself! You are following the command of Jesus to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
By his story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was saying that everybody is your neighbor, that you are one with your neighbor; that we all are to be neighborly to one another. We are to help all those we find wounded at the side of the road - and when we help them, we are helping ourselves.
The priest and the Levite didn’t do either. The priest and the Levite who passed by the man who was beaten up and robbed helped neither him nor themselves. They were not, therefore, carrying out the command of Jesus. They did not hurt the man; they weren’t the ones who beat him up and robbed him. But they didn’t help him either, did they? They were what we would call simply useless.
They did nothing good for the man. And in doing nothing good for him, in actuality they did nothing good for themselves. Standing aloof from that robbery and not caring for the man, preoccupied with their own affairs, not wanting to mess up their schedule for the day nor soil their hands with this man, they ignored him as if they didn’t see him. And when they didn’t see him, they didn’t see themselves. They were actually more needy than that man. And when they left him unattended, they left themselves unattended. Foolishly, they passed by themselves at the side of the road. We all do that when we do it to someone else.
Ignoring the needs of the world, closing our eyes to the problems of the people next door, down the street, and on the street, we do the same to ourselves. What is best for us, Jesus is saying, is that we take care of one another. When we do that, we are being loving people, we are helping the world to become a loving world. When we don’t do it, we are like the priest and the Levite - not aggressively cruel and inhuman as the robbers, not as aggressively caring as the Good Samaritan - but simply negatively useless!
When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he wasn’t merely trying to entertain people. He was showing his indignation and exasperation towards people who will not allow their ordinary, comfortable, everyday routines interrupted by others who need their help. He was trying to make us all aware that we miss countless opportunities for usefulness, for doing good. But not only for doing good for others — but for doing good for ourselves, which automatically happens when we go out of our way to help others.
We really have not learned this lesson yet, have we? If we have, then why is there so much sadness reported in the news every day? If we have heard the command of Jesus to “Love our neighbors as ourselves,” and listened to the story of the Good Samaritan, then why is crime and misery rising instead of diminishing? The answer is that many have not heard, many have not listened, that too many are like the priest and the Levite - much too busy to be concerned with even the urgent needs of others.
“And who is my neighbor?” asked the lawyer. “You are,” Jesus said. “You are the poor guy lying at the side of the road. Do you want to be good to yourself? Then help him!”
“LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF!”