‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ a lawyer asks Jesus, as we are told, as a question to test him, to trick him.
‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ Jesus shoots straight back at him. – ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ – ‘Do this,’ Jesus says, ‘and you shall live.’
‘Who is my neighbour?’ we are told, the lawyer carries on – according to the Gospel “wanting to justify himself”.
Jesus does what he often does to teach, to persuade, to make our hearts burn within us, to blow open our narrow-mindedness, to challenge our hard-heartedness: he tells a story. The story of the Good Samaritan.
He finishes it off with yet another question, ‘Which was a neighbour? Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ – ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ – ‘Go, and do likewise.’
I’ve been teasing at the question of neighbourliness all week, wondering whether there’s any significance in the slight variance of the question about the neighbour asked by the lawyer and by Jesus.
‘Who is my neighbour?’ vis-à-vis ‘Who was a neighbour?’
The lawyer asks ‘who is my neighbour’ from the perspective of the one acting, from the perspective of the one dispensing neighbourliness, from the position of power, if you will.
Jesus asks ‘who acted as a neighbour’ from the perspective of the one who was passive, from the perspective of the one receiving neighbourliness, from the position of weakness and need.
Christ’s teaching challenges the parameters of compassion normally understood by his contemporaries and by extension by us today — from compassion for family and friends, to all without exception, even to the point of loving our enemies.
Through the example of his life, Jesus calls us, his people, to practice love, kindness, compassion, and servanthood toward all we encounter, on a daily basis.
The Good Samaritan makes the choice to come near the man who had fallen into the hand of robbers. He makes the choice to approach him. He makes the choice to overcome the distance between him and the man clearly in need of help.
This is how eternal life might be known also here and now and in this place: in nearness, not in remoteness, in proximity, not in reserve, in deciding to be closer, and not looking for ways to push others away.
This is how eternal life might be known also here and now and in this place: not in detachment, but in intimacy, not in disengagement, but in openness, not in disenfranchisement, but in relationship.
Who, in our story, acts as a neighbour?
According to Jesus, the one who dares to come near.
Our ‘neighbour’ is someone who, without a doubt, is experiencing pain, struggles, challenges, and sorrows, and yet to whom we draw near. Our ‘neighbour’ is someone who clearly has needs … which we see, which move us to pity, which make us act in compassion as we consciously decide ‘I will help you’.
This should not be such a stretch for us as God’s people, God’s children.
After all, God’s decision to become human is just such an act — a commitment to draw near, a desire to close the distance, a need for, the gift of closeness, intimacy, relationship, compassion and love.
So, friends, people of God, let us go and do likewise.’
With love and prayers: Mo. AndiRead More