Who Is My Neighbour?
The two readings of today present us two of the most epic stories in the entire Bible. Jonah from the Old Testament and the Good Samaritan from the New. Jonah is not a prophetic but a humoristic, didactic book. In an ironic way it teaches a surprising universalism: God wants also pagans to be converted. Perhaps it also teaches prophets to accept their mission and not to refuse to seek the conversion even of the sinners they may despise. Like the prophet Jonah, we sometimes run away from our mission – the mission of any Christian – to bring salvation to people everywhere, because we lack the courage which involvement and commitment demands. This commitment is a mission of love, even to strangers.
According to an old Jewish story, a father tells his small son: “I think that God made people because he likes to tell stories and he wanted someone to tell them to.” We have Jesus with us today to tell us the immortal story of the Good Samaritan. Who is my neighbour? Anyone who needs me, whoever he or she may be. And “go and do the same.”
1 Reading: Jonah 1:1–2:1-2, 11
This is the word of the LORD that came to Jonah, son of Amittai: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the LORD. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD. The LORD, however, hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up. Then the mariners became frightened and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship for themselves, they threw its cargo into the sea. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship, and lay there fast asleep. The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.” Then they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots to find out on whose account we have met with this misfortune.” So they cast lots, and thus singled out Jonah. “Tell us,” they said, “what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country, and to what people do you belong?” Jonah answered them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing!–They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.–They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more turbulent. Jonah said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, that it may quiet down for you; since I know it is because of me that this violent storm has come upon you.” Still the men rowed hard to regain the land, but they could not, for the sea grew ever more turbulent. Then they cried to the LORD: “We beseech you, O LORD, let us not perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have done as you saw fit.” Then they took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea’s raging abated. Struck with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice and made vows to him. But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.
Responsorial Psalm: Jonah 2:3, 4, 5, 8
R. You will rescue my life from the pit, O Lord.
Out of my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice. R.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
and the flood enveloped me;
All your breakers and your billows
passed over me. R.
Then I said, “I am banished from your sight!
yet would I again look upon your holy temple.” R.
When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the LORD;
My prayer reached you
in your holy temple. R.
Alleluia: John 13:34
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another as I have loved you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbour to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Today we begin our readings from the Book of Jonah. This short book of four chapters is an extended parable, underscoring God’s concern for foreign peoples, well beyond the confines of Jewish identity. Commanded by God to preach to the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, urging them to leave their wickedness behind, Jonah refuses to obey and heads for the seaport and a ship that will carry him far from Nineveh’s shores. Once on board, the ship is beset by a serious tempest that does not abate until Jonah realizes that the storm may well have been caused by his own disobedience. He urges the mariners to cast him overboard, at which point he finds himself entrapped in the belly of a giant fish. He is finally discharged by the fish in the region of the hated Nineveh. Sometimes I think that Jonah was such a sinner that even a shark found him inedible. Poison! Disobedience to God is summary of all sins.
In the Gospel today we are treated to one of Jesus’ most celebrated and beloved parables, that of the Good Samaritan. Following up on Jesus’ pivotal teaching, on the love of neighbour, the questioner asks, “Who is my neighbour?” The familiar story finds the unfortunate traveler beset and beaten by robbers and left to die. Two religious personalities do not approach him; believing him to be dead, they feared the ritual impurity they would incur in having contact with a corpse. It was only a member of a despised sect, a Samaritan, who gave the man attention and provided for his welfare and recovery.
What is interesting is the way in which Jesus responds to the questioner. The original query “Who is my neighbour?” is answered differently by Jesus: Who was neighbour to the robber’s victim? The parable answers both questions. One’s neighbour is anyone in need. The one who proved to be a neighbour was a Samaritan, a member of a group with whom a pious Jew had no contact. So the parable highlights concern for any needy person and also stresses inclusiveness; goodness can proceed from any quarter. Virtue is not limited by race or social background.
Jonah, depicted as sanctimonious Christian of today, however, sees Yahweh concerned about the pagan Ninevites. The Lucan Jesus teaches us to see our neighbour in the events of every day and also realize that good example may come from any quarter, even from the despised Samaria. The scriptures present us with very broad horizons, to which we must remain alert.
We have heard how Jesus wants to make us all good Samaritans, people who have time and attention, compassion and love, for everyone in need. Our neighbour is any person who needs us. May the loving and almighty God bless you all, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!