Ordinary Time 15, Year C-2010
- You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself (Lev. 19:34)
The simple and poor folks, those St. Vincent de Paul considered to have the true religion (P. Coste XI, 201), know almost instinctively to whom the word ‘neighbor’ refers. Learned lawyers and their likes, on the other hand—schooled that they are to make distinctions, split hairs, or even wonder how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and rationalize their way out of moral obligations—feel compelled to ask, for the sake of argument, “Who is my neighbor?” Is neighbor every person who is other than me? Or isn’t it that neighbor is only the person who is almost as close to me as I am to myself, only someone whose religion and ethnicity do not vary from my own?
That the scholar of the law in today’s gospel reading could not even bring himself to say ‘Samaritan’ and used instead the phrase, “the one who treated him with mercy,” suggests that he was leaning toward the latter view. Samaritans could not possibly be neighbors and members of God’s people, the same ones who, in the gospel reading two Sundays ago, did not welcome Jesus’ advance party just because they were Jerusalem-bound and were consequently deemed by two of Jesus’ own disciples to deserve being consumed by fire from heaven.
But as Jesus took exception to the two disciples’ suggestion, so also he refused to endorse the exclusivist view subscribed to by the scholar of the law. Jesus put forward a more inclusive view. It is an inclusive view in absolute terms, if one considers Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies, non-retaliation, and returning blessing and prayer for curse and mistreatment (Lk. 6:27-36). In Jesus’ view, the notion of neighbor crosses religious and ethnic lines. Even the despised and hated other is neighbor; one who is perceived as a notorious bad guy and traitor, turns out surprisingly, as in the parable in question, to be a hero whose loyalty makes him willing to go out of his way and be bothered at certain personal cost, and thus shows himself to abide by the law and hence a member of God’s people (cf. ; see also The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1990] 43:126).
The neighborliness, which Jesus taught and lived to the fullest extent to the very end, is something impossible for human beings but possible for God (cf. Rom. 5:8; Lk. 23:34; 1:37; 18:27; Jn. 13:1). Because God has loved us and revealed his love by sending his only Son, we love God and also our brothers and sisters, all neighbors without exception, in imitation of the Father Most High who is himself kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (1 Jn. 4:9, 19-21; Lk. 6:35). In this manner we, who have never seen God, get the assurance that he remains in us (1 Jn. 4:12) and that he is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, as St. Augustine put it in his Confessions 3.6.11, so that we know by connaturality to whom ‘neighbor’ refers.
Such neighborliness, then, is grounded in God’s being very near to us, in our mouths and hearts, through Christ Jesus, the image of the invisible God and the head of the body, by whose bloody cross are effected reconciliation, peace and communion. Practicing such neighborliness (say, toward undocumented Jesús, María and José, or toward unbearable in-laws), the follower of Jesus lives as he fulfills the bidding, “Go and do likewise.” And thus is memorialized and made present the firstborn Good Samaritan of all creation, who gave his body up and shed his blood “so that we might have life through him” (1 Jn. 4:9).