You shall love your neighbor as yourself, the doctor of the law gave the right answer. Jesus confirms it: You have answered rightly; do this and you shall live. This was the story told in the Gospel of today's Holy Mass. This precept already existed in the Jewish Law, which even indicated it in practical details. We read, for example, in Leviticus: "When you reap the harvest of our land, you shall not reap your field to its very edge, neither shall you gather what has been overlooked after the harvest. For you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes from your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the traveler. You shall love others as you do yourself."
Yet, among the Jews there was a certain vagueness about the concept of neighbor: It was not clear whether it included only members of one's own family, one's own friends, or the entire chosen people. For opinions varied on the subject, and that was why the doctor of the law asked Our Lord, " Who then is my neighbor? To whom should I show all this love and mercy?" Jesus then answers him with the beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel today. Your neighbor, Jesus tells him, as he tells us is whoever has need of you. Our Lord makes no specific reference to race, friendship, of blood connections. Our neighbor is anyone who is close to us and has need of some help from us. Nothing is said of his country, background, or social condition.
As we go through life, Folks, we come across many cases of people who have been similarly injured and left destitute and left half-dead in body and soul. Our concern is to help them, which comes from our closeness to Jesus, enlarges our heart and prevents us from falling into a narrow mindedness and selfishness. We discover people who have been hurt by misunderstanding and selfishness or just by mere absence of some of the most basic human necessities; people humiliated in their dignity as persons: People who have been shamefully robbed of their most elementary rights in ways which cry to Heaven for vengeance. Christian men and women can never just pass a person by on the other side, as some individuals did in the parable.
Every day we, perhaps, meet the man left half-dead because he has not been taught the elementary truths of the Faith, or because they have been stolen from him by the effects of other's bad example, or by the media conditioning him into doubt and disdain for all organized religion. We cannot forget that the Faith is the greatest treasure we have, much more important that all the material and human values that exist. After we act in love as Christians, the words we utter we have a lasting effect helping others to understand what life is all about. Demonstrating that the life of Faith and the religious life can never be relegated to second place.
As the parable goes on, it tells us of a priest going down the road, and when he sees the man in need of help, he passes by on the other side. Here Our Lord is speaking to us about the sins of omission. Those who passed by did not inflict any fresh injuries on the abandoned and badly wounded wayfarer; they did not steal whatever he had left; or insult him. They had worries of their own, they did not want any complications, they had more important things to do. They gave greater importance to their own business than to the man in need. Herein lies their sin, what they did not do as they passed by on the other side.
Had there been a change of heart, they would have merited the reward Our Lord gave to Mary Magdalene..."she has a done a beautiful thing to Me." Since anything we do to others Our Lord reminds us we do to Him. Our Lord, through others, is telling us, "I am not asking you to solver all my problems, I am asking only for some bread to relieve my hunger, some clothing to cover my nakedness. I am in prison. I am not asking you to free me, but only to come and visit me. That will be enough for me, in return I will give you treasure in Heaven. For I have freed you from a prison a thousand times more harsh. I am happy just because you come and visit me from time to time.
The secret of overcoming differences of race and culture, age or character, is to realize the object of our charity is always Jesus Himself. When we look at others we should see only Jesus. It is Jesus Who is in need through anyone who is abandoned or unloved. The Gospel goes on, but a Samaritan as he journeyed, came to where the afflicted man was, he had compassion and bound up his wounds, he took care of him. What we need first of all, Folks, is to have a readiness to see the misfortunes of others, and not hurry through life so much that when we run into need and suffering we easily find an excuse for passing on the other side.
For the Christian, love is always ready to do whatever the immediate situation demands: It may require offering some small service, perhaps trying to cheer someone up when we find him or her gloomy, or maybe a word of appreciation and thanks, smiling, or giving a stranger directions courteously, or listening with interest as to what someone has to say. Our interests as Christians must take second place to the needs of others.
Jesus concludes the lesson with a friendly word to the doctor of the law. "Go and do likewise." In other words, be understanding, involved and compassionate with whoever needs you. And let us not forget to always go the the Blessed Virgin to help us in our resolve to help others. For she who is full of grace has a heart that has room for all humanity and makes no distinction or discrimination. Every person, she would tell us is her son or daughter. She, like Jesus, would remind us of the same parable in the Gospel if we ever forget!