During the month of March 1993, a photojournalist, Kevin Carter went to South Sudan during the peak of the famine that ravaged the region to get some photo news. In the course of his duty, he saw a skinny and starving little girl who was also weak and frail struggling to reach the United Nations’ food centre where a plane just landed with some food supply. The little girl had no strength left in her and she stooped to the ground to rest. As she was doing this, a vulture emerged and stood very close waiting for the girl to die so that it could feed on her.
As this eerie drama was going on, Kevin Carter was busy adjusting the lens of his camera in a bid to get the best shot that would give the world a dramatic idea of the magnitude of starvation and child mortality in the South Sudan of the time. In fact, it took him about twenty minutes before he could frame that shot that went viral.
When the photograph appeared in New York Times on March 26, 1993, so many attentive minds began to ask questions as to what happened to the child and her vampire visitor after the wonderful photograph that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in April 1994 was taken.
Three months after the award, precisely on the 27th of July, 1994, Carter committed suicide when he could no longer live with the guilt of not actively giving a helping hand to a dying child. In an editorial on this event at the time, the Petersburg Times Florida had this to say: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”.
Our reflection today has as its point of departure, the question a lawyer asked our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel Reading today (Luke 10:25-37); “who is my neighbour?” We shall attempt to answer this question individually at the end of this reflection. Notably, the lawyer in question came to our Lord Jesus Christ to ask a test-oriented question, not a knowledge-oriented question. His initial question was:”what do I do to inherit eternal life?”.
First and foremost, we need to congratulate this man for his awareness of eternal life after this temporal life which is also fecund for inheritance. In answering the question, our Lord asked him what the law prescribed and the man answered correctly that the law prescribed the love of God and one’s neighbour as oneself (Deut.6:5; Leviticus 19:18). The aptness of his answer shows that he knew the answer before asking. Nonetheless, our Lord made him give the answer anyway and advised him to do likewise to inherit eternal life. However, the lawyer who had a hidden agenda went further to ask our Lord the question that forms our point of departure in this reflection: “who is my neighbour?”
To the above question, our Lord Jesus Christ answered with a parable which we traditionally know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man left Jerusalem and was travelling to Jericho but on his way, he got into the hands of armed robbers and he was beaten and dispossessed of all his belongings.
After the ill-fated experience, the man was left half dead by the side of the highway. A Priest passed by but could not help him as he took the other side of the road, the same with a Levite. It was a Samaritan man that stopped and helped him to an inn and paid for his treatment. After the parable, our Lord asked the lawyer who among the three proved to be a neighbour to the victim and he said the Samaritan and our Lord asked him to go and do likewise.
The lawyer knew the law but was lacking in the practice of the prerequisites of the law. This explains why our Lord instructed him to go and do likewise. It is one thing to know what the law says and another to put those things into action. It is on account of this that the apostle James said that faith without good works is dead.
Looking at the narrative closely, we can see that the traveller left Jerusalem and was on his way to Jericho when he was attacked. Jerusalem actually means the city of peace. Here there is an indication of the fact the traveller left the place of peace which is the abode of God. In Ephesians (2:14) St. Paul stated clearly that God is our Peace. When we depart from the presence of God that brings peace we fall into trouble and turbulence. This was the experience of this man.
Now outside Jerusalem, he got into the trap of robbers. Spiritually this is a clear demonstration of the robbery that is mastered by the devil. John (10:10) made us understand that the enemy (the devil) has come to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY. And he is always prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet.5:8), especially those who have left the Jerusalem of God.
The man lost everything he had but his life was spared because God willed it. You may lose everything but if you are still breathing with life in you, there is a reason for you to believe that there are a future and a hope for you. (Jer.29:11). When God has not permitted your death you shall not die but live (Psalm 118:17).
Beaten, dispossessed, and helpless the man was left by the side of the road to die just like the little South Sudanese girl in our opening story. After a moment, a Priest and a Levite came along and seeing the man they took to the other side of the road. They were actually coming from the temple. Maybe the Priest would have preached the need to help the needy but now seeing the needy he took to the other side. He could give the excuse that he is not permitted to touch the dead like the Carter the journalist later said that they were asked not to touch the victims in South Sudan to avoid infection. The Levite who happens to be a helper to the Priest followed the example of his master and took to the other side of the road.
Often we give excuses as to why we should not care or give a helping hand. Often we tend to take the other side of the road to avoid being the Godsent, that hand, and that voice. On the other way however when we are in need, we would want the whole world to stand still and wait on us.
The game changer in the entire narrative was the Samaritan to whom today we add the adjective “good” to his name. His name was not mentioned but his geographical identity was mentioned. While the traveller, the Priest, and the Levite could have been Jews, this man was an outsider. He was not only different from the others by geography but also by his attitude towards the robbery victim.
In this Samaritan, we discover the person and mission of Jesus Christ who came so that we can have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10b). He came and took us from the roadside where the devil left us bitten and beaten and went ahead to dress our wounds. He took up our burden upon himself and healed our wounds (Isaiah 53:4-5). He went ahead to bring us into a place of restoration; the inn which represents the Church and gave two denarii which represent the word and the sacraments. He also promised to come again to check us out.
The question comes up here once more: “who is my neighbour?”. My neighbour is not just my roommate, my neighbour is not just my relation or friend, my neighbour is not just my housemate, my neighbour is not just the person next door. My neighbour goes beyond these. My neighbour is anyone who crosses my path in life. My neighbour is anyone who needs my support even as little as a smile. My neighbour is that person that is lying helplessly by the side of the road and who needs my supportive attention.
Often times most of us create unjustifiable barriers between ourselves and others on the basis of some differences. Often we consider others as poor and so unlike us. Sometimes we consider others as uneducated and so unlike us. Sometimes we consider others as unrelated to us by blood and social class. Any human being you meet irrespective of class, culture, and religion remains your neighbour. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God, humbled himself to the point of being human like all us and in fact our first born as St. Paul indicated in the First Reading (Col.1:15-20).
If Kevin Carter the photojournalist had understood the fact that the little skinny and frail child was his neighbour he would have dropped his camera to come to the immediate aid of the dying child who needed just a little food to live. Imagine the quantity of food that most of us throw away into the waste bin every day while millions of people go to bed every day without a meal, but these are our neighbours.
Today we are called upon to undertake an active review of our neighbourliness and how we handle it. There is a need for us to discard the attitude of selfishness and adopt selflessness towards our neighbour. The love for our neighbour is not an option but a commandment as the First Reading (Deut.30:1-14) indicated. We are also encouraged by the First Reading to pay attention to the voice of God and keep this commandment which is not mysterious or far away from us.
As we enter into the new week. let us continue to pay attention to the needs of others especially those who are lying there by the roadside of life and are in dire need of our attention. Let us end with this traditional hymn:
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me!
- When I was hungry you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty you gave me to drink. Now enter into the home of my father.
- When I was tired you helped me find rest. When I was worried you calmed all my fears. Now enter into the home of my Father.
- When I was lonely, to me you did speak. When I was troubled you listened to me. Now enter into the home of my Father.
- When I was homeless you opened the door When I was naked you gave me your coat Now enter into the home of your Father.
Have a great week ahead and may your blessings increase as you attend to that neighbour.