Who Is My Neighbor?

We all seem to love — even though, at times, get bored of hearing — the parable of the Good Samaritan told by the Lord Jesus Christ. (cf. Luke 10:25-37) Personally, I often hear it being used or preached so much that I, like many people, think we think we know the message and its teaching stops challenging us. Yet, the Lord told this parable because there was a scholar of the law who wanted to put Him to the test and justify himself as knowledgable and righteous.

The Savior responded with a very loving, but challenging, parable to teach those who were around Him the true understanding of “neighbor.” The Lord knew the intention and self-centered desire of the scholar to justify his righteousness, and that was why He portrayed their most hated neighbor, the Samaritans, as the one who went above and beyond to love and care for the abandoned. In a witty and loving move, Christ taught the self-righteous scholar — and in turn, us — what it means to truly love according to the spirit of the law, not just the meer letters. He ruffled their feathers and made many mad, — perhaps, us, too — but He knew the purpose and exactly why it had to be done.

In a very politicized world, the definition of “neighbor” has become a heated and much-avoided subject because both sides of the political spectrum are very vocal about this matter. People talk much! They argue a lot. All think that they are right, yet nothing much gets done. This is what happens when we politicized matters and fixated things only on the human level. We just love to talk, argue, and point fingers at each other but nothing gets done.

However, I am not asking you this question on a political level, not according to what your favorite news channels or politicians say, but what the Gospel and social teachings of the Church ask of us. The Lord told us that the Good Samaritan personally takes care of the person in need — no talk, no publicity, no need for others to notice. He goes beyond his ways to care for someone who is different than him, left to die on the side of the road, and who perhaps would keep distance and looks down on him because he is a Samaritan in normal circumstances. He chooses to care for the abandoned and forgotten person from the goodness of his heart! His character reminds us of the rich Gospel interpretation of “neighbor” — beyond politics. He chooses to care without the noisy, self-centered, self-justification talk.

In the day and age when we have much in comparison to others around the world, yet not many are happy with what they have, St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata reminded us that the greatest poverty in many Western, first-world countries is not of materialistic or physical, but a personal and spiritual one. She said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” Without a doubt, she hits the nail on the head! Our greatest poverty here in America is often not being loved, forgotten, and abandoned. We see this with more rises in anxiety, depression, addiction, suicides, school shootings, meaningless sexual exchanges, and objectification of people. These are objective signs that our society hates itself and many people do not feel loved or try to find love in wrong places, especially knowing but seeking and heading toward destructive ones. We see many people around us suffering like the person in the parable today — not necessarily physical wounds, but personal and spiritual ones — but we are often too occupied with our agenda or busyness that we keep moving along, ignored, or leave our “neighbor” on the side of the road.

There could be people who are suffering among us but perhaps we have not noticed, those who are close to us or in our very own parish community.  How many times have we heard, “Oh, I didn’t know that happened to him/her…” when something happens to someone close to us, at times, right underneath our eyes. In a pitiful society, people are locked in their own hell and self-created pities but ignorant of others’ sufferings. In an individualistic society, much is talked about little things but many just drown their own sorrows as sad, forgotten, and self-centered individuals. And yes, let us be clear that there is a fine line between being nosy and caring! It is important to remember that we are called to really care for one another, and that takes much consideration, love, and respect — not just trying to be in other people’s businesses. We all need to do a better job of how we care and love one another beyond mere words and politics!

We need to wake up and stop worrying about our very own selves, trying to be nicely-packaged, beautiful, vocal, but pitiful, insecure, self-centered people in order to be real neighbors to one another. There was a popular song by Ed Sheeran, “Beautiful People,” that was released a short time back. Its lyrics are very interesting, especially the music video speaks volume, so I would like to share it with you now:

Drop top, designer clothes — front row at fashion shows — “What d’you do?” and “Who d’you know?” — inside the world of beautiful people — inside the world of beautiful people — champagne and rolled-up notes — prenups and broken homes — surrounded, but still alone — let’s leave the party — That’s not who we are — we are not beautiful — yeah, that’s not who we are — we are not beautiful.

Our richness should be measured by how we love, care, respect, understand, and lift one another up in our daily struggles as neighbors, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, not the typical exterior pomps and attention-seeking, self-created, fake personas. In the book, A Simple Path, Mother Teresa expanded on her observations of our Western-world poverty:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

The Lord Jesus Christ told the “Good Samaritan” parable, well known that He ruffled many people’s feathers and made many mad, perhaps us, too, but He knew and understood why. Perhaps many of us will zone out, feel uncomfortable, and disagree now as with the people of His time. We, however, cannot deny the important lesson that the Lord wants to instill within us and what the Church wants to teach us in her social doctrines.

Just take some time today to pray, think, reflect, and respond. Do not simply react! Let us pray about how we can be better neighbors to one another, especially those who do not fit the mold, forgotten, abandoned, ignored, or living on the fringes of our society. Yes, it will be hard! However, we cannot lose sight of the important lesson of true care, compassion, and love as we ourselves received from the Lord.