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WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?

Father Francis's picture
Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Deut. 10:10-14 & Lk.10:25-37

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Two people posed this same question to Jesus, independently of each other, and with totally different motives.

One was the rich young man, fired with a genuine desire for eternal life and probably thinking of following Jesus. The other was a lawyer, merely trying to show off his legal knowledge by scoring a point against Jesus.
In each case He gives His reply in two parts. The first part is common to both people and based on Scripture: Jesus either quotes God’s commandments Himself or gets his questioner to quote it. The second part of the reply is more personal, and tailor-made for each person.

The rich young man asks, “What more should I do?” to which Jesus replies, “Leave everything and follow Me.” In today’s Gospel the lawyer, having acknowledged the commandments to love God and the neighbour, poses the question, “Who is my neighbour?” to which Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which His definition of neighbour is all-embracing. We can better appreciate the significance of the parable if we consider the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews.

The Samaritans were a sect which had broken away from mainstream Judaism with their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim and not in the Temple at Jerusalem. They had permitted inter-marriage with pagan people, and so were considered by the Jews to have compromised their religious principles, were outcasts and virtually unclean. It is against this background that we have to listen to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

The compassionate love of this Samaritan for the Jew is contrasted with the indifference shown by the Jewish Priest and Levite for a member of their own community. Jesus finally gets the lawyer to admit with his own lips that this is what loving one’s neighbour means. “Go and do likewise.”

Today the Lord confronts us with the same message in our own lives. What is our attitude towards keeping God’s great commandment of love which sums up all the others? Are we superficial and legalistic, picking and choosing what we obey, and measuring our love in mean quantities in the hope of getting away with the minimum possible? Or are we moved by the Spirit, sincere in our motives, reckless in our generosity and spurred by a desire to love God with all our hearts and our neighbour as ourselves.

And how compassionate are we towards others? Do we step into the other person's shoes and feel, at least in a limited way, the pain of that person? This is the key to loving those for whom we have a natural dislike or those whom we find hard to forgive. Compassion connects us to such people at the deep level of pain, and reminds us that they are as much our brothers and sisters in Christ as anyone else. It is compassion which moved the Samaritan to care for the wounded Jew who needed love and care. Jesus challenges us today with the same message, “Go and do likewise.”

As the First Reading from Deuteronomy reminded us, the great commandment of love is not beyond our reach. We find this neighbour everywhere, sometimes on our very doorstep, whoever he or she may be.

Holy Spirit, we ask You to fire us with a sincere love for all, and a compassion and generosity which makes us reach out and bandage the wounds of those in need, even those who behave as our enemies.

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