This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Venezuela will wipe out toilet paper shortage by emergency imports
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Jesus shows the relevance of the Law to actual living
25 Then one of the experts in the Law stood up to test him and said, “Master, what must I do to be sure of eternal life?”
26 “What does the Law say and what has your reading taught you?” said Jesus.
27 “The Law says, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’, and ‘your neighbour as yourself’,” he replied.
28 “Quite right,” said Jesus. “Do that and you will live.”
29 But the man, wanting to justify himself, continued, “But who is my ‘neighbour’?”
30-36 And Jesus gave him the following reply: “A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell into the hands of bandits who stripped off his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. A Levite also came on the scene and when he saw him, he too passed by on the other side. But then a Samaritan traveller came along to the place where the man was lying, and at the sight of him he was touched with pity. He went across to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own mule, brought him to an inn and did what he could for him. Next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the inn-keeper with the words, ‘Look after him, will you? I will pay you back whatever more you spend, when I come through here on my return.’ Which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbour to the bandits’ victim?”
37 “The man who gave him practical sympathy,” he replied. “Then you go and give the same,” returned Jesus.
The wit of Jesus is shown in how he turns a legalistic question “Who is my neighbour? (meaning “Who am I obliged to treat as a neighbour?) into a living question, “Which of these…was neighbour…to the victim?” (meaning “Who will you recognise as a neighbour when you’re in need?”). In the first case the questioner thinks of himself as having all the resources; in the second the man is asked to think of himself as destitute.
The legalistic question is standard in Jewish debate on the Torah. Yes, it says “Love your neighbour,” but does that give me any wriggle room? Does it mean my actual neighbour? My fellow Jew? The members of my extended family? My slaves? All sorts of answers were given and discussed. Jesus’ story cuts the cackle. The needy man’s Jewish neighbours pass him by, because they don’t see themselves as his neighbour. But the Samaritan, member of a heretical religious community, wants to be a neighbour. The help he offers is immediately effective and provides for the longer term also: his neighbourliness is not simply an immediate generosity; it is a steady, thoughtful purpose. This story shows up the sterility of the abstract question. If you want to be a neighbour no petty considerations will stop you; if you need help, you know who your neighbour is without asking a rabbi.
In the UK it’s Christian Aid Week, during which church members ask for public donations to this major NGO that develops partnerships with community groups in places of poverty to develop methods of survival and flourishing. It has been, for more than half a century, the incarnation of the churches’ desire to be a neighbour to needy people, offering them cooperative justice for the long term, as well as emergency aid in bad times. Its educational mission has challenged and educated church members on issues of world poverty and development, with great consistency and imagination, so that the average church member is much better informed on such matters than the average citizen. This difference is sadly apparent in the ignorant abuse to which collectors are subjected when they ask the residents of their parishes for contributions. The collectors are saying, “Help your neighbour,” and they are often asked testily, “Who is my neighbour? (…”certainly not some lazy African with too many kids…!”).
A happy persistence in loving our neighbour as ourselves is half of salvation. Now, how on earth can we love the Lord our God and enjoy the other half as well?