Comedians like to answer our question with a smile, such as “A neighbor is the only person to listen to both sides of an argument.” Or, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and our enemies, probably because they are the same people” (G.K Chesterton).
However, Jesus was more serious about the neighbor question from a local Jewish scholar. When he asked Jesus about who is a neighbor, he received Christ’s most memorable story about a man traveling on the very dangerous “Bloody Road,” from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jesus describes a vicious robbery of this man. “They stripped him and beat him and left him half dead.”
Then, Jesus pictures the reaction of three people to the victim. First comes a priest who sees the victim and passes on. One would expect the priest, as a religious leader and an official model of the values of the Bible, to stop and help the victim. Alas, he ignored him. Then came the Levite, a specialist on worship. Maybe he suspected this was a decoy. He knew of tales of robbers suddenly appearing and brutalizing the charitable one. So he looked the other way and rushed onward.
Lastly, came the Samaritan, an object of scorn and bigotry to the Jews listening to the story. For us this would be like introducing a black hero to racists, or a woman to sexists.
It was the rejected Samaritan whom Jesus upheld for his audience to admire. He stopped by the body by the side of the road. If he was scared, he put that aside. He poured oil and wine over the wounds of the victim, gently picked him up and carried him to the nearby inn. He rented a room for himself and his wounded stranger. Next day, he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying “If this costs more than I have given you, I will repay you on the way back.”
Now Jesus asked the man, “Which one was a neighbor?” He replied, “The one who treated a stranger with mercy.” Jesus approved him, “Go and do likewise.” Jesus teaches us that the neighbor is someone to be loved — regardless of race, creed or color. When risk is involved, the test is greater. The Samaritan proved to be a neighbor. I believe we should accept then the moral privilege Jesus offers all of us. Be a neighbor. It is likely to be the best way to improve the neighborhood.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.