“Who is my neighbor?” This question from a scholar of the law which produced the narrative of the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37) is as relevant to us today as it was during the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word neighbor comes from the Old English neahgebur, which is a combination of two words, neah, which means “near” (close) and gebur, which means “dweller” or inhabitant. Put together; a neighbor refers to someone who stays near another person. A direct opposite of a neighbor would be a stranger, which means a foreigner. This reflection would, however, understand neighbor from a broader perspective.
In the Gospel narrative, the lawyer comes to Jesus to ask a question for the sole purpose of faulting him. His query goes like this, “teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here, we have a fundamental question that requires deep reflection. Our Lord answers the question by prodding the lawyer on what the law says and he answers correctly, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Deut. 6:4-5; Lev.19:18).
Our Lord congratulates him for a perfect answer and encourages him to act accordingly, but he Would not give up. Trying to justify himself, he comes with the question, “who is my neighbor?” To this, our Lord answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan which is about a man who narrowly escapes death in the hands of robbers while on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.
While lying almost dead by the roadside a Priest passes by, sees him and goes away by the other side of the road. A Levite does the same. But a Samaritan comes along, sees him, and with compassion pours oil and wine on his wounds and takes him to an inn using his animal. He stays with him till the next day, and before leaving, he gives two silver coins to the innkeeper for the welfare of the wounded man with the promise of paying for extra expenses. At the end of the parable, the lawyer confirms to our Lord that the Samaritan who is socially and religiously a foreigner to the traveler proved to be a neighbor to him than the Priest and the Levite.
The Neighbors and The Foreigner
The major actors in the parable include three Jews, namely, the traveler, the Priest, and the Levite and one foreigner; that is the Samaritan who would later get the title “good.” We shall reflect on these individuals paying attention to their characteristics and responses to the need of a neighbor.
The traveler has no name and could represent anyone all of us on the journey of life. Coming from Jerusalem, he could have been in the temple for religious devotion or trade. He was also traveling by himself, and this could mean a lot. Often in our life’s journey, we think we can succeed alone often we feel that we don’t need any human or divine support. The Book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-11) says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
The traveler runs into robbers who use the vulnerability of his aloneness to dispossess him of everything he had and leave him half-dead after physical torture. In the first place, traveler was not a good neighbor to himself as he could not make provision for his safety while traveling through a notorious landscape. The parable shows that the traveler had no support system and that alone could attract robbers.
The Priest and Levite
The Priest stands as a person with high moral and spiritual values. A first-time reader of the parable would expect the Priest to stop and give a helping hand to the dying man or at least call for help. Surprisingly he walks away by the other side of the road without committing to help in any form. Coming after the Priest, the Levite who assists the Priest in the temple follows the example of the Priest. Often our bad choices snowball into the lives of other people who look up to us. The Book of Proverbs (27:17) says that iron sharpens iron.
In one of his great sermons, Martin Luther King Jnr says that the Priest and the Levite had one thought in their minds, “If I help this man what would happen to me?” They had concerns about ritual uncleanliness that anyone in their status could attract by touching a dead person. For them, it would be safer to leave the traveler to die and remain clean than to help him and become unclean. Summarily they have excuses for not showing neighborliness to their neighbor.
The Samaritan brings a change in the pattern by stopping to help the wounded traveler. Socially, culturally, and even religiously, he had no obligation to assist a Jew who would consider him a foreigner. But something moved him, and the parable calls it compassion. According to Martin Luther King Jnr, he could be thinking, “if I don’t help this man what would happen to him?”
The Samaritan did not only give the wounded traveler a curative first aid on the spot, but also takes him to an inn, stays the night with him, and pays the cost of his restoration with a promise of doing more if there would be a need in the future. Summarily put, the Samaritan gains the admiration and appraisal of the narrative as the Good Samaritan and by all standards, the real neighbor to the wounded traveler.
Moving Forward: Building Brotherhood in our Neighborhood and Beyond
Your neighbor is not only the person next door, but anyone who deserves your smile, care, attention, and help at any time and any place; sameness of location alone would not make a neighbor. God created us to become neighbors to one another irrespective of our differences in culture, color, religion, social status, and other differentiating attributes.
Being neighbors to each other is about building selfless relationships, that would serve the needs of other people. One of the enduring hallmarks of Christianity is being at the service of others. While talking about nature of the final judgment our Lord Jesus Christ states that whatever we do to others we do to him (Matt. 25:45).
Often, we think that Christian identity is enough without Christian action. Being born in a Christian home is not enough to make one a true Christian, just like being born in a garage would not make one a car. In the parable, we notice that the Priest and the Levite could not demonstrate their respective identities at a needful time.
One thing we could notice in the parable is that all the major actors are on a journey on the same road. This road represents the route of our Christian pilgrimage. When we travel alone without divine security, we fall into the hands of the evil one. Wounded and defeated our Lord Jesus Christ picks us up even when the best around us abandon us (Psalm 27:10). He pays the price for us and takes us to the inn, the Church. where we are nourished with the word and the sacraments until he comes again for us. Until he comes, let us continue to be neighbors to each other. God bless you and have a wonderful week.