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Who Is My Neighbor?

July 15th, 2013by Fr. Satish Joseph

The George Zimmerman trial is finally over. Zimmerman has been acquitted and he is a free man. While he and his family are certainly relieved, I clearly see a lack of any triumphalism on the media or elsewhere. The reason is simple. A life has been lost. Trayvon Martin is dead. Death in any circumstance is a tragedy.

The jury delivered it verdict on 13th July, 2013, a Saturday. The gospel reading for the 15th Sunday was the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in the context of a question put forward by a scholar of the law. He had asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus then drew this answer from the scholar: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus suggested to him that he had answered correctly, the scholar wishing to justify himself asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then gave the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Who is my neighbor? In our modern context, our neighbors are those who live in the immediate vicinity of our home. This was not the case with the Hebrew people. Because, the Hebrew people constantly lived in a hostile environment surrounded by enemy nations, and because they were all part of the same Covenant with God, every other Jew no matter where they lived within the nation was a neighbor. Hence the call to love your neighbor is a call to love every other Hebrew citizen and not just the immediate neighbor.

Most probably, the man who feel victim to the robbers in the parable was a Hebrew. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite who passed the robber’s victim had an obligation to come to the aid of the victim because he was a neighbor. Sadly, they did not. But here is where the parable becomes interesting. A Samaritan came to the aid of the Jew. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. Whereas the priest and Levite who had an obligation to help the victim failed to recognize a neighbor, the Samaritan who had NO obligation to help a Jew treated him as a neighbor. In this way, he goes beyond his obligation. He does not look at ethnicity, culture, language or religion of the victim. Here merely sees a man in need and he steps in. For him any person in need is a neighbor.

George Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood watch group. His job was to secure his neighborhood. After the verdict, I guess we can say that he was merely fulfilling protecting his neighbors? But then, who is my neighbor?

Trayvon Martin’s death and the consequent events have unraveled one more time the fragile racial, ethnic, and economic fabric of our nation. Yes, the verdict has been passed but that cannot undo the damage that has been done. Before and after the verdict, we are a divided nation. Yes, there are times when we have shown our capacity to stand together and face adversity. September 11, 2001 was one such time. But at other times we still show the capacity to turn on one another and show our worst self to one another and the world.

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that our neighbors our defined not by geographical, racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious boundaries. In fact, in our global world, all the world is our neighbor. And because Christ died for all, every person is neighbor. Especially, every person in need is my neighbor. Of course, we can choose to let our prejudices and our fears dictate who we consider our neighbor or enemy. But that is not the lesson of the gospel.

At the end of the gospel Jesus asked the scholar this question: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The scholar answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” And Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”

Fr. Satish Joseph

Fr. Satish Joseph is the associate pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries. You can find his free iPhone and droid apps by typing in itemissaest or ite missa est.