Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How far is my neighbour?

"Love your neighbour as yourself" has been a great teaching that no pious Jew ever questioned. However, the range of its meaning was certainly in doubt. That is why a lawyer once stood up in one of the teaching sessions of Jesus and asked, "Who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29).

The story that Jesus told him was to illustrate the meaning of neighbor. He told him the story that we now call the Story of the Good Samaritan. There was a man who was attacked by the robbers who left him on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho to die. All sorts of people passed by this man but no one except a Samaritan helped him and saved his life. The priest and the Levite who passed him by without lending him any help were closer to him in every way. They were from the same race (Jews) and belonged to the same religion (Judaism) and most probably lived somewhere around that area. However, as far as Jews are concerned the Samaritan was an outcast and foreigner. He must have lived in the territory of the Samaritans, which was further north of Jerusalem. After concluding his story, Jesus posed this question: "Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" This question implies that there is a distinction between two realities. One is to have a neighbour, and another is being a neighbor.

Having a neighbour is decided by the physical proximity; however, being a neighbour is being there for a person when he is in need disregarding all sorts of distance. Living in a Jewish neighbourhood, the lawyer could only extend his love only to another Jewish person (or to a lawyer if he lived in the Lawyers Campus) who lived next door or just across the street. For the priest and the Levite the man on the road was not his neighbour though he was a fellow Jew, because they did not live in the same neighborhood.

Jesus redefined love to neighbours by defining what it means to be a neighbour. By extending our love to all those who are in need we become a neighbour to them. They may be living miles away from me in the poorest countries of the world, or the poorest sections of my own country but I have to be a neighbour to them by extending my love and care to them. For Jesus, a person's need is what brings that person to the neighbourhood of my love. It is a challenge to extend our love beyond our own neighbourhoods of religion, caste, nationalities to all those who suffer.

Life and Light

'For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light' Psalm 36:9.   When David sang to God, 'For with you ...