There was an occasion when Jesus was asked this very simple question – who is my neighbour? Sadly, it wasn’t asked because the questioner wanted to find out more about how to help people. Rather it was asked in the context of testing to see what Jesus understood about the law.
It was an opportunity for an expert in the law to try to catch Jesus out and potentially discredit him. Jesus, aware of the trap, turned the tables and gave us perhaps the best known of all the parables, that of the Good Samaritan. After telling the tale of a man left for dead by robbers, ignored by two of his own countrymen and finally rescued by a member of an “enemy” race, Jesus throws the question back at the expert and asks him, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert is forced to give an answer that must have exposed more than he wanted to acknowledge. He simply said, “The one who had mercy on him.” In all likelihood, he couldn’t even bring himself to saying the word “Samaritan”, such was the loathing for the people of Samaria. Jesus finishes his lesson to the expert by telling him, “Go and do likewise.” You can read the full story in Luke 10: 25 – 37.
This parable is no less meaningful in our day, nor is the question, who is my neighbour? Living in a world where we can be simultaneously connected to a multitude of people via the web while isolated from meaningful relationships and community networks, Christians need to be continually finding ways of “loving their neighbours”. Here is where ANGLICARE’s work with parishes is so vitally important. It is encouraging to hear of the innovative work that many parishes are undertaking to reach into their communities, providing real help to marginalised groups who are often forgotten or ignored by large sectors of our society.
People such as migrants and refugees are often the most vulnerable in our society and therefore need special attention so that they can settle into a new and oftentimes cold world. A simple act of loving our “non-english speaking” neighbours makes Jesus’ instruction as real and lively as it was when he first came into this world.
This is only one example. So perhaps we should be praying that God would give us a fresh understanding of what it means to love our neighbours each day.