Am I a good neighbour

It is striking to note that the man attacked by the enemy in the parable has no name. It can be anyone.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best parables Jesus narrated in the gospels. The ultimate goal of every human person’s life is to inherit eternal life. The lawyer who stood up from among the crowd raised a question regarding the means and ways to inherit eternal life. This query was not the outcome of a thirsty seeker’s pursuing mind. He wanted to test Jesus and trap him in words.

Jesus foresaw it rightly. Hence Jesus encountered him with a counter question. “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer who is versatile in the Torah answered these fundamental questions citing from the Old Testament, namely, Deuteronomy 6:5 where we read how Yahweh reveals the means to inherit eternal life to the Israelites, saying, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. In Leviticus 19:18, Yahweh speaks about love of the neighbour: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD”. Jesus acknowledges the lawyer’s reply as right.

The command to love the LORD is qualified by four words involving the core of one’s personality, such as, heart, soul, might and mind. These expressions categorically show us how God’s claim on us reaches to every area of our existence including our innermost being, that is, our heart; that gives us our identity, our soul; that gives us energy, strength, resolve and resources, that is our might.

No part or cell of our self is to be withheld from the love of God. Love for oneself is the reason for all our activities as a human being to exist in the world. A person who hates himself totally ends his life. The expression, “You shall love the LORD your God… and your neighbour as yourself”, has a deep and profound meaning.

Our love towards God does not exclude our love towards our neighbour. Indeed, when we really love God, we live out that love for our neighbours as well. In Christianity, love of neighbour is the only bypass to God and eternal life! This is vividly inculcated to us in the first letter of John 4: 7-21. The phrase “as yourself” implies love for oneself. Love for oneself is also expected from us.

Therefore three types of love are demanded from one who wants eternal life, such as, love of God, love of neighbour and love of self. They should be always in this gradation too! These three are inseparable from and complementary to each other. Jesus emphatically states that eternal life is not attained just by knowing the commandments, but in doing them or by living a life in view of inheriting salvation. Those who live well-ordered lives now have been touched by the kingdom of God; in other words they are close to eternal life. The first stage of the parable (Luke 10: 25-28) leads us to the second (Luke 10: 29-37).

What has begun as the lawyer’s test for Jesus now turns to be Jesus’ test for the lawyer! The lawyer cleverly asks Jesus who his neighbour is. Here we must keep in mind how Jews interpreted the idea of one’s neighbour. For them the neighbour is a member of the same religious community, namely, a fellow- Jew. They generally exclude the Samaritans and the foreigners from the category of neighbours. The lawyer’s question demanded a distinction between those who are one’s neighbours and those who are not. Therefore he was cunningly asking Jesus who his neighbour is. His clever question has a hidden implication that who is not his neighbour! Practically speaking, he was asking Jesus whom he should love and whom he is not bound to love.

Jesus interprets the Old commandment of love of neighbour in the light of the parable of the Good Samaritan in which three men came upon a man (the name is not given) who had been robbed and abandoned half dead along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Of these three, a priest and a Levite saw the man, but did not attend to him. Both hail from religiously respected and honoured people. However, it was a Samaritan, who was mistrusted and despised by the Jews, who cared for the man who had been fallen victim to the robbers. This Samaritan, whom the lawyer probably excluded from the category of his neighbours, is presented by Jesus as worthy of being considered a neighbour and to be loved. Jesus turns the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbour?” into “Am I a neighbour to other human beings who are in need of me?”

How can we prove ourselves as true neighbours to other human beings?

Jesus obviously specifies that a neighbour is one who showed him mercy. We are also invited for the same. In this parable the neighbour and his actions are defined actively, not passively. We get a detailed description of the Samaritan’s care for the injured man. There are a host of verbs in active voice to point to the care he gave him, such as ‘came near him’, ‘he went to him and bandaged his wounds’, ‘poured oil and wine’, ‘he put him on his animal’ , ‘brought him to an inn’, ‘took care of him’, and so on. (Luke 10:33-35). The person who fell among the robbers is referred as ‘a man’.

He can be any human being; man or woman; rich or poor; one who speaks my language or another language; hails from my caste or tribe or ethnic group or not. He can be of my country or not; of my region or not; of my religion or not. Jesus asks the lawyer (one who wants to inherit eternal life) to act or do like the Samaritan in showing mercy to anyone who is in need, “Go and do likewise”. The parable teaches us that the neighbour to be loved is anyone who is in need with whom we come into contact in the course of our life journey.

The duty and obligation of a neighbour is beyond all boundaries irrespective of receiving any reward or even a word of thanks. The Samaritan would not have expected any payment or reward for what he did to the man who was robbed. This parable also teaches us how the eternal life or salvation brought by Jesus is universal and accessible to all humanity. Since a Samaritan (non-Jew) is made an example of Christian conduct of love and charity, we are taught that even a Samaritan or a so-called pagan has found the way to eternal life while those chosen ones, the main stream Jews, miserably failed!

– – – written by Br. Vineesh Joseph, Ranchi