This person needs me now

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

15th Sunday in ordinary times


A story is told of a rich man who saw a beggar on the street as he was walking back to his house for dinner. As there was plenty of food on his table, he was much troubled by the thought that the beggar had none. The rich man became angry at God for not taking care of the poor and said, “God, why do you allow this? Why don't you send someone to give the beggar some food?” God replied, “O, yes, I have. Why do you think I created you?”

It took God to tell the rich man that he was to share what he had with those in need. Which is Jesus' teaching on the supremacy of love.

One day an expert in the law asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit life?” Jesus answered the question with another question: “What is written in the law?” The lawyer recited with authority the two greatest commandments in the law. At this Jesus told him that he answered correctly and added, “Do this and you will live.” But not satisfied with generalities, the lawyer asked further, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10: 25-37). The parable is a story about the least likely person showing love to someone he was supposed to despise.

The parable begins with a man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell victim to robbers. He was beaten and was left half-dead on the road. A priest and a Levite both saw the man, but they crossed over to the other side of the road and continued on their journey. Then a Samaritan came by the victim. Moved with compassion, he went up to him, cleaned and bound up his wounds. He then carried him to his beast and brought him to an inn. He cared for him the whole night. The following day, he asked the innkeeper to care for him in his stead and left him with some money. If more was spent, he would pay for it on his way back. For him, the dying person had become more important than his comfort and even a delay in his journey.

In the parable, the priest and the Levite used religion to justify their neglect of the victim. For to help an injured person would make them unclean according to the law and thus unable to perform their ritual tasks in the temple. Thus for them their temple functions were more important than helping an injured and dying person.

There is something significant in a Samaritan helping a Jew. The Samaritans were the historical enemies of the Jews. They were despised as half-caste descendants of northern Jews who had inter–married with foreign settlers. When the southern Jews returned from exile in 520 BC, they refused to allow the Samaritans to help them rebuild the temple. In retaliation, the Samaritans established their rival priesthood and temple.

For the Jews, to love one's neighbor meant to love someone who belonged to the Jewish community. Thus the Samaritans were not worthy of their love or help. This became painfully clear when in answer to Jesus' final question, “Who was neighbor to the robbers' victim?,” the lawyer answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” He could not even utter the word Samaritan, being so full of hatred for them. And anger, too, because Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of the story.

“Who is my neighbor?” A neighbor is not simply one who is dear to us like our parents, brothers or sisters, relatives and friends or one who lives next door. A neighbor is one in need — be this material, emotional or spiritual — regardless of age, sex, race, ideology or religion. In other words, when it comes to helping a person in need, namely, a neighbor, there is no distinction between Samaritans and Jews. Thus, being a neighbor to someone is not a question of geography or religion but of the heart, of love.

Our faith tells us that we can not love God without loving our neighbor. Conversely, we can not love our neighbor without loving God. But it is easy to find all kinds of excuses to go around this supreme precept of Christianity. We may say that our limited resources do not allow us to help everybody. Moreover, we say that charity begins at home. If this is our attitude, we may end up helping no one at all. The parable provides us with a practical rule to guide our actions: To come to the assistance of someone who needs my help at the moment I come across himher.

After narrating the story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three was neighbor to the robbers' victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Then to him Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” With this, Jesus went beyond the initial question, “Who is my neighbor.” It has now become, “How do I prove myself a true neighbor to others?” The answer? “Go and do likewise,” that is, we are to act in the same manner as the Good Samaritan did when we come upon a person in need.

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