When I think of neighbor, I think of Mr. Fred Rogers and the opening song of his show, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” “Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?”
Mr. Rogers did a great job, teaching children about relationships and neighbors. But we do not live in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. We live in a world that is very similar to the world of Jesus. Jews hated Samaritans and looked down upon them. They were racially mixed people, having intermarried with pagan religions. Jews considered them imperfect. Thus, contact with a Samaritan would make you unclean, unfit for temple worship and interaction with regular Jewish society.
Then, Jesus enters into the scene. In the words of Fr. Donald Senior, Jesus is that boundary breaker who afflicts the comfortable. He travels through Samaritan territory. He speaks with a Samaritan woman at a well. He defines merciful love by using the example of a Samaritan coming to the physical, medical and financial aid of a Jew. The scholar of the law and everyone listening would be aghast at his words since Jesus ends with the famous line, “Go and do likewise.”
We have these same relational problems here in our world. The “Brexit” vote in Britain is the result of a lack of healthy discussion about immigration. In the town of Boston, England, 76% of people voted to leave the European Union. Now, of course it is their right to determine their future. But look at what follows the vote. Gregory Pacho runs a thriving taxi company in town for sixteen years. But soon after the vote, he finds a leaflet on his car window that reads, “Did you pack your bags yet?” Mr. Pacho is Polish-Italian. And there are many other Poles who have been verbally attacked by the townsfolk. With the rise of riots and shootings in the United States, we do not have to look to Europe for problems. They are right here too.
In the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God…” That is, when Jesus speaks, God speaks. When Jesus describes the greatest commandment to consist of merciful love, then God is really describing to us merciful love and says to us, “go and do likewise.” Or, better put, “While you journey through life, do the same thing.”
So, what if you and I imagine for a moment that we are those scholars of the law who ask Jesus about the greatest commandment. As Jesus defines the commandment for us, Jesus will name our “Good Samaritans.” They are the people we despise or argue over dinner with friends. Do we despise black people, white people? Jesus names them as our Samaritans. Men, women, gay people? They are our Samaritans. Those immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and “others?” Jesus names them as our Samaritans. These are the people whom Jesus uses to describe the greatest commandment. These are the people we Christians are to imitate as models of God’s loving mercy. And then, we are to pay it forward.
In the words of the psalmist, Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life. In my opinion, these remain to be seen.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The Fifteenth Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C
A Picture of Mother Teresa, 1986, taken by an abbey monk.