“Who is my neighbour?”

4. Sunday after Trinity

Luke 10;27-35

Who is my neighbour is the hard question a lawyer put to Jesus on the subject of living in the light of eternal life. The difference between Jesus and us is that his love is unlimited, and embraces the whole of creation, whereas we pick and choose whom to love. A little earlier in Luke’s Gospel we hear Jesus dealing with easy neighbourliness, saying in effect “So you think you’re doing well because you choose to love people who love you, or who like you, or even people who are like you. Big deal”. The Commandment to Love your neighbour in both Old and New Testament provokes the question, who is my neighbour?

By and large, we can’t pick and choose neighbours. There have been TV documentaries about the neighbours from hell; some years ago there was even a Comedy series on British television called, with just the slightest hint of irony, “Love thy neighbour”, which pointed out the very real tensions that can exist when people of different races and cultures are thrown together, and it is no use in the name of political correctness or any other so called orthodoxy of the day to pretend that such things don’t go on. It can also be particularly difficult for Christians thinking they live in Christian countries: it is debatable whether many western countries can think in such terms today? But we can be sure that those who are known to be Christians will be judged by their words and deeds by those who are not; that applies to the clergy and laity as well. The next time we are dealing with a particularly difficult neighbour, or shopkeeper, bear in mind, we will be judged.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
From The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, 1873.

The parable of the Good Samaritan used by Jesus, highlights the centuries-old dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews despised the Samaritans for their mixed race, for their own brand of Judaism, and the prejudices and feelings were warmly reciprocated by Jews. That story has been repeated countless times the world over even in our times in Bosnia, Africa the Middle East and now in Russia and Ukraine. The British witnessed this in the past troubles of Northern Ireland, which we hope and pray will not be repeated. Yet not so long ago in Ireland, the behaviour of some, though not all, so-called Christians there, including some in prominent leaders was a disgrace, and a denial of the teaching of Jesus we reflect on in Luke’s Gospel. The Catholics are the neighbours of the Protestants, the Protestants are the neighbours of the Catholics, yet they seemed caught in a three hundred years old time warp of hatred. Such behaviour shames all of us who are Christians. It will not do for the world will damn us all together.

We cannot deny our vocation to be the holy people of God, a vocation that does not allow us the luxury of carrying on with our prejudices like everyone around us. The Gospel teaching does not allow us to carp and criticise or divide and abuse. Christians are challenged to try to see the world through the eyes of those who are making life difficult for us. It does challenge us to turn the other cheek, calling us to love the unlovely, which can be frightening. That’s why, before we start thinking about how we’re going to live in harmony with that difficult neighbour next door, we need to take stock of our own lives, our attitudes, our openness to the renewing power of the Gospel: a life centred on Christ is a life renewed, a life in which love and joy and peace will be known, a life where even the neighbours from hell can begin to be loved for Christ’s sake, for he came as much for them as for you and me.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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