Reflection-Week 3

Be Good Samaritans in these modern times 
 
Lent is a time of formation in focused discipleship, a time of closer walk with the crucified Master. The Way of the Cross is perhaps the best representation of the spirit of this inner pilgrimage. The disciple, in the company of the blessed Mother, travels along with the suffering Lord to Calvary, in fellowship with one’s brothers and sisters. During this journey through the Way you pause at every station, as if to drink from a fresh spring of life-giving water, to look at the picture of our Lord and Saviour to grasp his example and to recollect ourselves to follow his image more closely. 
 
In this Lenten pilgrimage here we are at the next Station of the Cross and the picture before us is the image of Jesus the Good Neighbour. St. Luke’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ teaching on loving one’s neighbour. Most often spirituality for us is only loving God but Jesus places loving neighbour along with this. Neighbourliness is surely an everyday reality but Jesus places it at the heart of spirituality and as a requirement to “inherit eternal life” (Lk 10: 25 ff). Like love and friendship, neighbourliness is also mutual: I am his neighbour and he is my neighbour. But the lawyer who comes to have this session of interview with Jesus asks a very simple, practical question- “And who is my neighbour?” I am sure many bystanders, like many of us, would have thought this a very foolish question. But it turns out to be the first step in practical Christian living, bringing us down from theological questions to everyday life in the real world. 
 
The lawyer asked “And who is my neighbour?” and Jesus readily faces the query. The Gospel passage says that the interviewer asked this in an attempt to justify himself but Jesus earnestly responds with one of the most memorable word pictures ever drawn in the history of mankind, the narrative of the Good Samaritan. 
 
A well planned road accident on the Jericho highway and among the passersby, like a skilled story teller, Jesus focuses his spotlight on the reaction of three of the passersby to bring out his eternal message. The priest saw, then the Levite saw and finally the Samaritan also saw the man who had been stripped and beaten by the robbers. For all of them it was “by chance”, unexpected, in the midst of their everyday schedule. The first two passed by “on the other side” surely due to their pressures of time and duty. Yet, the third man could not pass on because when he saw the suffering man “he had compassion”. All that followed, his attention and care to the suffering man, the trouble he took to carry him to an inn, the readiness with which he made all payments for this unknown passerby, all sprang up from the compassion he felt, because compassion is powerful as “love is strong as death” (The Song of Solomon 8:6). 
 
Jesus could depict in the parable this “by chance” seeing, opening up the heart to compassion, leading to acts of mercy because that was his own lived experience. It was his everyday experience as he went about all the cities and villages, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them” (Mt. 9:36). And surely this moved Jesus to listen to them, talk to them, feed them and heal them. 
 
After his vivid presentation of the “neighbourliness process”, Jesus checks if the lawyer has taken in the message. He asks who among the three “proved neighbour” to the unfortunate man on the Jericho road. The lawyer readily responded that the neighbour was “the one who showed mercy to him”. The rich man in the story of Lazarus didn’t prove a neighbour (Lk 16:19) while those at the right-hand side of the King in the last judgement (Mr. 25) proved to be. Thus, a step of proving to be a neighbour becomes important in fulfilling the will of God. In this way, Jesus could powerfully communicate the message of neighbourliness and the process of love of neighbour as first seeing him, then having compassion and finally moved to show acts of mercy.
 
Are we good neighbours today? 
 
Like all of us, Jesus’ contemporaries defined ‘neighbour’ as one who is ‘near by’, one who shares my home, my locality, my faith or culture. Jesus gives a shock to all of us by placing a Samaritan, one who worshipped God in a different way, as an example, and not a priest or Levite. So anyone in need is my neighbour and if I am actively merciful to someone in need, then I obey God’s commandment and become worthy of eternal life. Jesus ends his discourse by making one of his rare ‘go statements’ commanding the man and all of us to “go and do likewise”. 
 
For most of us there is a powerful vanishing trick with ‘disappearing neighbour’, ‘evaporating time’ and ‘vanishing personal resources’. With our high walls, fast vehicles and well knit social groups, we practically never see real people of real need. We are too busy in a very ugly way to see and hear anyone in need. Modern dynamics of credit, investment and plastic money see to it that we will never to able to respond to the inner promptings to reach out to real need. For a true Christian, faith and community are genuine only if it equips him or her to go beyond the borders of faith and community. 
 
God of Israel chastised His people for a hollow spirituality and pretentious fasting. He wanted a fast of neighbourliness or mercy and not sacrifice (Hos 6:6) and urged them for a step to move to the needy:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness
to undo the thongs of the yoke, 
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and to bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Is 58:6, 7)
Then . . . (and there is a great promise that follows)
 
Let us repent of our false spirituality and self-centeredness and be God-centered and neighbour-centered. And so let us:

  • Create opportunities, personally, as families and groups, to see and hear people in need
  • Set apart time, money and resources to be neighbours
  • Take an effort to look at Samaritans, those not of our faith, who are true neighbours, and join hands with them
  • Like in this parable, use all our facilities and professionalism to love the neighbour, to be merciful to the needy and poor 

And let us not forget the great promise of Jesus which is also an ominous warning, in a very unusual way repeated twice in the same Gospel- “To him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt. 13:12; 25:29). Wish you a merciful Lenten pilgrimage!
 
Dr. Edward Edezhath
Kochi, India   

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