Who Is My Neighbor?

The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:25-37)

In today’s gospel passage we hear that a lawyer came to put Jesus to the test. One should always be careful when lawyers are nearby. But this particular lawyer wanted to test Our Lord’s knowledge of the law of God. It is possible that this man even came with good intentions. Perhaps in the depths of his heart he really wanted to have a deep and thriving relationship with God. Perhaps he really wanted to inherit eternal life. Perhaps he really wanted to be saved.

In the course of asking Our Lord Jesus Christ how he could inherit eternal life, Our Lord questioned him in something of a socratic method and through questioning the Lord understood that the lawyer knew what the law said: “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor.” However there was a problem with his understanding. He knew what he should do, but he didn’t know how to apply this knowledge fully. There was something of a disconnect between the man’s theoretical knowledge and his day to day life. This was made clear when the lawyer asked this particular question: “And who is my neighbor?”

So once again our Lord told the man a parable and through this extensive parable, the Lord once again asked a question and received the proper answer from the lawyer. In this way, the Lord led the man to the answer instead of simply lecturing or telling him the answer. “Who is my neighbor?” That was the question of the lawyer and often this is a question that resides in our hearts and minds. We live in a fragmented society. The fragmentation of our society and our world has been caused by many factors but it seems clear that somewhere near the top of the food chain. Near the top of the power structure, there are those who benefit greatly from seeing chaos and division within society.

When there is suspicion, there is distrust. When there is distrust, there is hatred and then division. Over time this pattern of behavior leads to such a divide that we begin to see the people around us not as they truly are, as humans made in the image and likeness of God, but as enemies, as demons, as something less than human. And we do this every day. You are told that if you side with Israeli’s you are evil. But others will tell you that when you side with the Palestinians you are morally wrong. This might apply to how we look at illegal aliens or someone of a different race or perhaps even someone who has different political opinions. In each and every one of these situations and circumstances we are called to be more than merely human. We are called to be God’s children at heart. We are called to see everyone as neighbor. What a beautiful thought!

In order to further reinforce this idea, Our Lord Jesus Christ told the parable of the good Samaritan. This is already an oxymoron since a Jew could not use the words good and Samaritan in the same sentence. They thought of the Samaritans as a people with a different religion, a different and strange people. A lesser people. So the Lord really pushes the boundaries of the people’s comfort zone in order to get his point across. To love your neighbor as yourself is to go out of your way to serve those around you, even if they happen to be different from you. The Lord shamed his listeners, including the lawyer, a bit. He showed them that one of these Samaritans understood the law better than any of them ever had. The proof was not in how he talked or spoke of the law. The proof was in the way that he demonstrated this love in action. The demonstration of love could be distilled into one word: “mercy”.

When Our Lord himself was eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees asked what Jesus was doing and this was His reply, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” That is God revealing His heart and His mind to us. Perhaps we should pay attention and do likewise.

How do we acquire this demeanor of mercy? It comes as a by-product of our love for God and our understanding of His overwhelming mercy towards us.

In fact, when we have come to know God and we have a thriving relationship with Him, then even the impossible will happen. We will even see our enemies as our neighbors and that is proof that we are really becoming like God. That you are in fact related to God!

St. Moses of Optina writes, “If at some time you show mercy to someone, mercy will be shown to you. If you show compassion to one who is suffering (and of course, this is not a great deed) you will be numbered among the martyrs. If you forgive one who has insulted you, then not only will all your sins be forgiven, but you will be a child of the Heavenly Father.”

Who are we? Who are we really? It is known only through the actions of love for everyone that we encounter in our lives.

And I would like to end with another fantastic quote from St. Dorotheos of Gaza who said, “The more one is united to his neighbor the more he is united to God.”

May this alone be our path. AMEN.

Source: Sermons