“And who is my neighbor?”

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The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most easily recognized of Jesus’s stories.The word Samaritan, though it truly describes a group of people who originate from Samaria, has become almost synonymous with describing a person who helps another in distress. The Samaritan is “the good neighbor” and so much of Jesus story focuses on how a person is to treat their neighbor.That good neighbor, the good Samaritan treats the suffering victim with mercy and compassion, The good neighbor looks after the wounded persons needs even though they are under no obligation to do so. The story of the good Samaritan brings into dialogue how we are to act towards one another.

The scholar who has this conversation with Jesus asks the question “Who is my neighbor?” in response to Jesus  statement to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The scholars question was not how should I treat my neighbor, but rather “who is my neighbor.”  His was that question of where are the boundaries are drawn, and Jesus story clearly address that issue. Samaria was a kingdom that bordered Judea, though the two groups were far from neighborly. To Jesus there was not the Kingdom of Judea, and the Kingdom of Samaria, or the Kingdom of Assyria, or any of the other Kingdoms that surrounded Jerusalem. To Jesus there was one Kingdom that he preached and that was the Kingdom of God. To him the issue of neighbors was not simply the realizing that countries bordering each other should be civil or neighborly towards each other. It was the realization that we are all neighbors of that one Kingdom of God. It is that we are all of one body and one blood under one divine King . The scholar understood well the rules on how to treat a neighbor, it was the size and extent of the neighborhood that was the lesson learned. Neighbor was no longer defined by country, or border, or race, or religion, or even personal constitution. Neighbor instead was defined simply by flesh and blood. The good neighbor recognizes all as neighbor. Neighbors are no longer segregated, but now are universal. Neighbors become catholic or universal, and by that the laws that govern being a “good neighbor” becomes extended to all.

So many times it is easy to see this story of the good Samaritan play out in society. How many times has there been natural disasters in countries where feuding countries offer relief to their neighbor in civil battle? How many times can countries put aside their differences to help each other in earthquake disasters, or floods, or famine; only to resume their ideological battles once those disasters are averted? These are the retelling of the good Samaritan in modern times. While these acts of civility among fractured nations is comforting, sometimes one has to remind themselves that this is not the fulfillment of that story but only a step towards that fulfillment. Eternal life is not granted for simply acting decently in times of disaster. Eternal life comes through love of God, and love of neighbor as oneself. Compassion is simply a step, though a great one, towards that goal.The goal is after all to recognize your true neighbors and treat those neighbors justly. Recognizing a neighbor, and treating them as oneself, can prove to be a challenge.Being a good neighbor is bringing peace to that neighborhood. It is binding wounds that sometimes have festered for generations, and that takes effort. It is not simply putting a bandage on a wound, a temporary patch, but true healing. That Good Samaritan does what he can at once, but also returns to see that the wounded’s needs are met at all costs. It is not simply doing something to feel good or meet an obligation, but to resolve and bring about a healing. On a national scale , while the disaster relief might be a good first step, resolution of the two nations differences is truly recognizing each as neighbors.

Being a Good Samaritan is at one instance simple, and is almost always rewarding. Being that good Samaritan is also a challenge that often requires thought and insight, as finding that right or “good” move is often elusive. While a step towards becoming that “good” Samaritan might begin with a simple act of kindness, it often requires involvement and frustration. Just as the scholar asked “who is my neighbor?”, perhaps now the question becomes “who is a good Samaritan?”

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