On Loving thy Neighbour
(Deut.30:10-14; Col.1:15-20; Lk.10:25-37)
Over the last fortnight our Gospel readings have come from St Luke’s story of Jesus’ ‘Great Journey’ to Jerusalem, and a central theme has been the art of Christian discipleship.
Two weeks ago, when he began his journey, Jesus told his disciples to be strong, to be prepared to embrace humility and discomfort, and to leave everything behind as they follow him.
Last week, when he sent 72 disciples out as missionaries, Jesus told them to travel light, to live simply, to be people of peace, and to engage deeply with the people they meet, by living as they do.
Today, Jesus tells us more about what it means to be a good disciple, by giving us the Parable of the Good Samaritan and his golden rule: to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. One interesting point about this famous commandment is that most of the world’s cultures and religions share this same rule. They might express it differently, but Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all agree that you should love your neighbour as yourself.
If it’s so widely accepted, then why did Jesus present this rule as something new? It’s because he gave it new meaning. The truth is that many cultures and religions define the word ‘neighbour’ very differently.
In Jesus’ time the Jewish sect, the Essenes of Qumran, believed that only those with the same religious beliefs could be their neighbour. Another Jewish group, the Zealots, only accepted people as neighbours if they shared their nationality and ethnicity.
So, the Jews didn’t accept the Samaritans as their neighbours. They feared they might be contaminated by them, even if their shadows touched. They had a real sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
What Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s Parable of the Good Samaritan is that all of humanity is one big neighbourhood. We’re all neighbours, regardless of any differences we might have.
St Catherine of Genoa was an aristocratic woman who lived in the 15th Century. After her husband went bankrupt, she started working in a poor hospital. She once prayed, ‘Lord, you say I should love my neighbour, but I can love no one but you’.
But God replied to her, saying, ‘Everybody who loves me loves what I love’. What he means here is that if God loves everyone, no matter what, then we should do the same.
So, who is my neighbour? Anyone and everyone, without exception.
One thing that sets saints apart is the way they’re prepared to suffer the pain of profound love for their neighbours.
In today’s parable, we can see that Jesus is the Good Samaritan who goes out of his way to help the wounded man. At the same time, however, he’s also the wounded man lying in the street. We know that because in Matthew 25:40, 35, Jesus says that whatever ‘you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me …’
Learning to love isn’t always easy. As so many of us know, it can be painful. For those who have never really loved, it’s like exercising a muscle you’ve never used. It can hurt. But with practice it gets stronger and loving gets easier.
One thing that sets saints apart is the way they’re prepared to suffer the pain of profound love for their neighbours. St Vincent de Paul used to say that we should pray continually that God may give us the spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God.
The Polish St Maria Faustina Kowalska did just that. She was completely devoted to God’s loving Mercy, and used to pray, ‘… O Lord, may the greatest of all divine attributes, that of your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbour’.
She prayed, ‘Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never … judge from appearances … Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may listen to my neighbour’s needs … Help me, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbour … Help me, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds … Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbour … and help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbour… O my Jesus, transform me into yourself, for you can do all things.’
May we all go and do the same.