Dt 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37.
Who is my neighbour?
Today the Word of God poses a question to us: who is our neighbour? And, how do we treat our neighbours? This question becomes important in the context of the radical change Jesus brings about in the very mindset and attitudes of his disciples when He takes two separate texts from two different books of the Hebrew Bible and sets up a single commandment of loving our neighbour with the same intensity, the same depth and the same totality as we love our God to be essential pre-requisite for the fullness of life to which all of us hunger and thirst from depth of our being. “It is on your lips; it is in your hearts.” By deliberately putting these two texts together, Jesus gives us a concrete, tangible and almost measurable criterion to judge the authenticity of our love for God. If we truly love God, then by that very love we will necessarily embrace our neighbours, as St. John tells us clearly, “If anyone says he loves God but hates his brothers or sisters, he is a liar and the truth is not in him.”
There is another radical change in our mindset that Jesus brings about, and that is in our concept of our neighbours. It is easy to warm up to, to be close to and to establish friendship with those who belong to our caste, creed, class, culture, community or country. Jesus, on the other hand challenges us to go beyond these artificial barriers and encounter persons on the basis of our common humanity and of our shared sonship or daugherhood of our common Father in heaven. That is why Jesus answers the scholar’s question, “Who is my neighbour?”,with a story that has a pointed message which will go straight to the heart of his listeners, upsetting their belief system, overthrowing their carefully constructed customs and social structures and posing a radical challenge to them to be converted. And so, “Who is my neighbour?” Not my brother, not my sister, not my mother, not my father, not my cousins, not my nephews, not those who speak the same language as me, come from the same place as me, belong to the same caste as me, follows the same rite as me, observes the same customs as me, shares the same culture as me. My neighbour is one who needs me most at this particular moment and in this particular place. My neighbours are the wounded, the broken, the lonely, the abandoned, the excluded and the helpless. In a word my neighbour, according to Jesus, is the one who has no human support, the anawim.
But the most devastating and even dangerous idea that Jesus introduces in today’s Gospel is the new understanding of the true religion, true worship. The contrast between the priest and the Levite on the one hand and the Samariatan on the other, could not have been sharper. On the one side are these men of religion, men of the Word of God, the men of liturgical worship, the men of Temple sacrifice. On the other is the Samaritan who never went to the Temple of Jerusalem, never offered a sacrifice there, never observed Jewish Law, never worshipped on the Holy Mountain of Zion. Who then is the true man of God? Which of these is a genuinely religious person? What is true religion? What is true worship? Which is more important: offering sacrifice and burning incense in the Temple or reaching out to the last, the lost, the hopeless and the helpless?
Here lies the heart of Gospel message. It is not saying, “Lord, Lord” but by doing the will of God that one shows oneself as the true disciple of Christ and the will of God is that all of us live together as sons and daughters of God our Father, members of God’s family, mothers and sisters to one another, being compassionate as our Father is compassionate, loving one another with the heart of God, reaching out to the needy, binding up the wounds of those who are hurt, giving strength to the weak, hope to the despairing and courage to the timid.
This is true religion. This is true worship. This is true sacrifice. “I do not want your sacrifices. I hate your burnt offerings. I loathe your holocausts. What I want is not sacrifice but mercy and compassion.” Here comes the troubling question: Why did the priest and the Levite cross the road and went their way on the other side even after seeing the wounded victim on the ground? Were they wicked men, hard hearted, insensitive and cold? No! They were family men, being loving husbands and tender fathers, men of religion, men of prayer, men of liturgy, men who fasted and gave alms, observed Sabbath and ritual purity, burnt incense and offered sacrifices in the Lord’s sanctuary. It was not because they were wicked or cruel that they turned their faces away and closed their hearts to the wounded, helpless man. Rather, they were good men, spiritual men, virtuous men. However, they felt they had a higher call; a greater commitment; a more demanding priority. They had to offer sacrifice and burn incense in the Temple. To be able to do that they had to keep themselves ritually pure. Hence they should not touch blood, nor a dead body, nor a gentile and not even a Jew who is a sinner.
It is this kind of religion with lopsided priorities that Jesus overthrows. For Jesus Temple cult comes second to compassion. Sacrifice comes second to mercy. Ritual purity comes second to charity. For Jesus true purity does not pertain to what you touch, what you eat and whom you associate with. For Jesus, true purity is the compassion, mercy, love and charity of the heart.
This law of charity and love is engraved in our heart by the Holy Spirit. As the first reading says, it is very close to you . It is on our lips and much more in our hearts. It has taken flesh and blood in Jesus Christ our supreme model and exemplar in this new way of love we call discipleship, as the second reading makes clear.
In a word, the liturgy of today calls us and challenges us to love as Jesus loved, to live as Jesus lived and to relate to people as Jesus related. The Eucharist will strengthen and inspire us in doing this in the daily circumstances of life.