Being a Neighbor
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

There are a number of tales about neighbors getting involved in quarrels. The more common tale in our part of the world is about trees planted on the boundaries, especially fruit trees. Trees have leaves and the leaves fall. This occurrence can be a source of irritation if the next-door neighbor does not like leaves on his lawn. Some trees bear fruit. This can lead to a tricky situation when the fruit of the tree happens to be in the air space of the neighbor. Who has a right to the fruit? The quarrel begins when someone says, I have a right to the fruit and you can have the leaves. Naturally, the neighbor believes that if he sweeps the leaves he might as well have the fruits.

Action starter: Interruptions may be opportunities for loving.

Even in its ordinary sense of proximity, being a neighbor entails behavioral adjustments. One learns how to be considerate to others, as well as how to assert one’s rights. In the instance where one cannot sleep because the neighbor’s dog barks the whole night, it takes some diplomatic skill to tell the neighbor to do something about it. On the other hand, there is something beneficial in having neighbors. One can request them to keep an eye on the house while one is away. Of course, parties are livelier with neighbors to share the joy of the occasion.

This Sunday’s story of the Good Samaritan is familiar with us. It contains the famous question that a lawyer addressed to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The legal mind thinks in terms of definitions and limitations. A neighbor is one who is near my house. One can even go farther, a neighbor is one who comes from my barrio. Among the Jews in the time of Jesus, a neighbor is a fellow Israelite. In the Philippines we say, a “kabayan”.

We can define boundaries in terms of space. Neighbors are those closer in space. Boundaries may also be in terms of consanguinity. Neighbors are those who are my relatives. Boundaries my be in terms of race, nationality, or religion. Neighbors are my countrymen. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan broke all boundaries. Samaritans had their own place and space. In fact they built their own temple to rival the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans kept to themselves. The Israelites considered them to be religiously impure for having intermarried with foreign conquerors. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus broke conventional thinking by making him the hero of the story.

The Samaritan was “moved to pity at the sight,” whereas the Levite and the priest passed by. He did something risky. This was dangerous territory where thieves lurked. He washed and dressed the wounds of the victim, put him on his horse, and took care of him in an inn until the next day. The Samaritan went all the way and out of his way. He stopped and interrupted his business for the sake of helping another person.

In a fast-moving world, we are intent on doing our tasks, meeting deadlines, and minding our particular businesses. Like the priest and the Levite we have to attend to our “temple duties”. Sometimes, we feel that it takes a lot of trouble to stop by and talk, much more, care for a person. We may not even have to look far to see a neighbor in need. He may not even be a stranger. He could be literally, a neighbor.

If the Samaritan was “moved to pity” at the sight of a victimized stranger, it could only be because his heart was ever-ready to respond to the unfortunate. In his day-to-day relationship, he had cultivated a habit of caring. Perhaps, if we had the chance to interview his next-door neighbors, they would tell us, “It is not surprising he would do that. In this neighborhood we can always count on his help. He is a good man.”