Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who Is My Neighbor?

One of my favorite stories from the New Testament is one known as  “The Good Samaritan.” In my opinion the parable is commonly misinterpreted.  Most people think of this story as a call to charity for those less fortunate and in this narrow sense, I suppose that is true.  There's a lot more to it than just "doing good" and helping your fellow man in hard times. 

Jesus often encountered skeptical audiences during his short ministry.  There were many in the crowd that wanted to see this young rebel run afoul of the authorities, both the clerics and the Roman government.

And behold, a lawyer stood up and put him to the test, saying ,”Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?  How do you interpret it?” And the lawyer answered, “You should love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. And you should love your neighbor as you love yourself. And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will have eternal life.” But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he feel among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half-dead.  Now by chance, a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed to the other side.  So, likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, crossed to the other side of the road. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound his wounds, pouring on oil and wine and then set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and he took care of him.  And the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I return.’

Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell amongst the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed mercy on the victim.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Samaritans were hated by the story's target audience, the Jews, to such a degree that the Lawyer did not mention them by name but as "The one who had mercy on him." The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews. The enmity was in essence religious: both groups accused each other of misinterpreting the Torah, of falsely considering themselves God's chosen people, and of conducting false worship, unacceptable to God. Thus the parable, as told originally, incorporated the current religious and ethnic tension to teach, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).

Today the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known to not interact comfortably Thus, cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behavior that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve; it also means that not sharing the same faith is no excuse to behave poorly, as there is a universal moral law.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan

So the question is, who is my neighbor or, actually, to whom am I a neighbor?  Acts of kindness and mercy are open to all humans and compassion does not belong to one faith or one people.  

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