Go and do likewise
The one test of Jesus by a lawyer comes in the Gospel of Luke (Lk.10: 25- 37). The lawyer asks: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you’re mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” replied Jesus. “Do this and you will live.”
The lawyer then asked Jesus, who was his neighbour? In reply Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, how the priest and Levite passed by on the other side leaving the man who had been attacked for dead. Then the Samaritan came along, took pity on the man and helped him – binding his wounds and making sure he was taken care of.
Jesus then asked: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The first part of this passage is about loving God and one’s neighbour. It is in loving God and our neighbour, we are told, that we shall live. St. Augustine tells us we cannot say that we love God while we do not love our neighbour. According to Augustine whoever loves his or her neighbour necessarily, loves God. He probably said this having in mind the fact that we are all created in the image of God.
The second part of this passage is however, provoked by the lawyer’s attempt to justify himself. To justify his typical, limited interpretation of the word neighbour to “one who is near,” in terms of members of the same people and religious community, that is, fellow Jews. There is no problem with the love of neighbour whatsoever, but the lawyer seems to prefer limiting neighbours to Jews alone. Jesus shows that a ‘neighbour’ is not only the person close by, but anyone in need. It is someone that I must help because he or she needs my help, just like the Samaritan who gave freely of his time and money to help a Jew who was not only a stranger but was also of a different religion, a foreigner, and an enemy of his people.
An important point to note here is that in the time of Jesus, for political and religious reasons, the Jews and the Samaritans had been hating each other for hundreds of years. With that in mind, we can easily understand that there was no one that the lawyer would have considered to be less of a ‘neighbour’ than a Samaritan. If a Samaritan could be a ‘neighbour’, to a Jew who fell into the hands of thieves, the very person who perceived him to be an enemy, then the interpretation of the word neighbour can be extended to everyone regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other artificial boundaries or distinction.
The challenge to love one’s neighbour, can be very costly. It can cost us our time, money, pride and it can be an inconvenience. It is however a challenge that we are called to live up to. Especially if we have the means to help.
But the love for one’s neighbour can also be free and does not cost anything. By simply valuing or appreciating the other person we show that they have worth and they are human beings created in the image of God. For example, we can look to refugees who have had their rights violated. Have we ever stopped and thought about the refugees as our neighbours who have fallen into the hands of robbers? Do we give them the respect they deserve and treat them as we would want to be treated? Or have we also failed to love like the robbers who inflicted pain on the traveller; the priest and the Levite who also failed to love by being indifferent? The Samaritan doesn’t move to the other side of the road, but when he sees the wounded man he takes pity on him. Love, sympathy, and mercy are motivated by the need of the other. We have failed to love if we have caused human suffering or have been indifferent to human suffering.
‘Go and do likewise’ is the challenge that Jesus gives to the lawyer after he had narrated the parable and helped him figure out who his real ‘neighbour’ was. It is a challenge to go and look upon people, not as inconveniences but as an opportunity to serve and practice that love for our neighbour. It is a challenge to overcome one’s prejudices and show kindness to all, irrespective of their origins or beliefs. It is a challenge to show one’s love to refugees by supporting them, pleading their cause, fighting for their rights and knowing that whatever we do to them we are doing to Jesus Christ our Lord.
Published with permission of the Jesuit Refugee Service
The Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic non-governmental organisation, at work in over 60 countries, with a mission to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people. JRS UK carries out its mission on behalf of all asylum seekers from their first arrival until they are satisfactorily settled. This work is carried out in collaboration with other JRS offices round the world, other Church and secular organisations, voluntary and governmental, which are active in the same field.
Photo: Isidore, a refugee helped by the Jesuit Refugee Service. [Photo credit: Jesuit Refugee Service]