How am I to be a neighbor?

The Golden Rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself” we hear in today’s gospel is not just a Christian thing.  Many ancient religions have the Golden Rule in one form or another.  For instance; in Judaism it is stated; “What is hateful to you, do not, to your fellow man. That is the law: all the rest is commentary.” In Hinduism, it reads: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” For Buddhism it states; “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” And Confucianism: “Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” If the Golden Rule was so well-known in ancient cultures, then why did Jesus spend so much time teaching it as if it was something new? Jesus brought a completely new understanding to the commandment. The key to its understanding lies in the question the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s gospel; “Who is my neighbor that I have an obligation to love?”

Among the Jews, during the time of Jesus, there were those who understood “neighbor” in a very limited sense. The Essenes of Qumran, for instance, a neighbor was the one who shared the same religious persuasion as them. The Zealots understood neighbor to include only those, with whom they shared the same nationality and ethnicity. Hence, the average Jew would not regard a Samaritan as neighbor and their circle of neighborly love excluded them. The new dimension in Jesus’ teaching of neighborly love is his insistence that all humanity is one big neighborhood. Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice created by people. To bring home this point, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man, regarded as Enemy Number One by the Jewish establishment simply because he is Samaritan, is the one who finally proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Jesus broadened neighbor to include everyone regardless of class, race or creed. Christian charity knows no bounds and oversteps all man-made limits.  A neighbor is anyone who deserves our love- that is everyone. The real test of the Christian’s love of a neighbor will not be found in grand pilgrimages or reading Catholic classics but is found in what we do with the person at the side of the road. St Ambrose of Milan said it beautifully; “Mercy, not kinship makes someone a neighbor

Keeping laws is good and promotes good order to any community. Probably in our society and church today, we need to become more aware of the value of keeping laws. Our reflection alerts us to the fact that simply keeping laws and commandments isn’t enough. All our actions must be directed to the good of others. Doing good for others promotes right relationships in communities. The principles of holiness and eternal life are universal and ageless, but the road to eternal life is local, the path to holiness runs right through the place where we live.

The story of the Good Samaritan challenges us especially in this Year of Mercy, to be open-minded to everyone, to be charitable, to be compassionate, to be forgiving, to be approachable, to be available, to be loving and merciful to people of all walks of life. Let us make sure the opportunity doesn’t slip by unnoticed. Let’s obey Christ’s command to “Go and do likewise.”

May the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi always be our inspiration;

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace

When there is hatred, let me sow love

When there is injury, let me bring pardon

When there is doubt, faith

When there is despair, hope

When there is darkness, let me bring light

When there is sadness, let me bring joy.