By Rev. Fr. Dominic Udegbe
A Lawyer in our Gospel reading of this Sunday came up to Jesus to inquire what he must do to receive ETERNAL LIFE. Honestly, on the surface, I must commend the inner desires of this Lawyer. How, I wish that, this particular interest of his would also be in the heart of each one of us. In fact, if everyone is sincerely bothered on what he/she must do to enter into ETERNAL LIFE, honestly our world would be a better one. There will be genuine love and consideration in our dealings and relationship with one another. But unfortunately, the reverse is the case, not many people bother themselves about that. No wonder, our world is so chaotic. We live and operate anyhow, like people whose hope ends here on earth. Meanwhile, in response to the Lawyer, Jesus refered him to what the Law or Scripture regulates for gaining ETERNAL LIFE. On this, the Lawyer recites; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself”, (Lk.10:27, Deut. 6:5 & Lev. 19:18). Correct! Jesus said to him, ‘Do this and ETERNAL LIFE will be yours.
By referring the Lawyer to what the Scripture requires, Jesus is telling us today that, it is by living in loving-obedience to what God commands, that one gains entrance into ETERNAL LIFE. It is not just by praying alone but by matching our prayer with loving-obedience to God’s WILL (God commands). Loving God and loving our neighbour are the greatest and the most important commandments. It’s like one coin with two faces; love of God and love of neighbour. The two are inseparable. However, with the intent to justify himself, the Lawyer pretends not to know who his neighbour is. Because, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, ‘neighbours’ meant ethnic Israelites, their own people, people of familial relationship (blood and flesh) and if one is outside of this, one is an enemy or a foreigner. Regrettably, many of us today also operate in this frame of mind. But for Jesus true love of God leads one to give up all such discriminations between persons and to see every living human person as a neighbour.
Therefore, Jesus expands the scope of who a neighbour is, by telling the Lawyer an ‘examplary story’ of the GOOD SAMARITAN. In this story, the victim who fell into the hands of the robbers, is presumably a Jew, while the Priest and the Levite (representatives of Jewish religious figures) avoid contact with the victim. Probably, they didn’t want to risk the possibility of ritual impurity by touching the victim in the pool of blood. Here, they sacrifice the call of love and compassion on the altar of routine spirituality and went their way. However, it is a Samaritan (non-Jew and a foreigner) who goes extra miles to help the victim.
To conclude His story, Jesus now puts the question back to the Lawyer in a different way: Which of these three proved himself a neighbour to the man? The Lawyer couldn’t but answer the obvious; ‘The one who took pity on him.’ Jesus then, commands him to go and do likewise and eternal life will be his. By this, Jesus is telling us today that we should not trouble ourselves defining, who is a neighbour and who is not? But that we should always listen to the call of love and compassion within us and PROVE OURSELVES A TRUE NEIGHBOUR to anyone, it pleases God to bring our way. To ‘become neighbour’ is to show MERCY, as the Lawyer rightly answers. MERCY does not consist simply in being moved by another person’s ugly situation and then walk away. Rather TRUE LOVE (MERCY) consists of being moved by another person’s distress, and then one stops and reaches out to relieve, like the SAMARITAN of our story.
The interesting fact about ‘neighbour’ is that, no one chooses who becomes a neighbour to him/her. Rather God provides neighbours to us. Yes, you can choose who becomes your friend, partner, spouse and so on but it is not actually within your power, to choose who becomes your neighbour. You can choose your flight, bus, taxi and even the route to follow but you cannot choose whom you will meet in the vehicle or along your journey.
Again you can also choose where to live in the neighbourhood but you cannot choose who will be your next door neighbour. What Am I saying? It is God that chooses who becomes our neighbour. God chooses who we meet every day. Our only part is to prove that we are TRUE NEIGHBOUR to those, it pleases God to bring our way, irrespective of race, tribe or nationality.
Therefore, never allow any man-made barriers to limit your proof of being a neighbour to anyone, it pleases God to bring your way, who is in need of your possible help. As you prove yourself a neighbour to others, certainly, God will provide you with true neighbours in your own journey of life. Remember, it is only in compassion that we resemble God the most and it is also in compassion that we demonstrate our love for God the most. As you make honest efforts to be a TRUE NEIGHBOUR to those around you, may God always provide and answer in your impossible cases.