“Who is my neighbor?” asks a scribe (Lk 10:29). Christ replies with the parable of the good Samaritan.
After hearing this parable repeatedly, I thought I knew its full meaning. I was wrong!
The person who helps the man left for dead is a Samaritan. In the eyes of the Jews, Samaritans were detested. And yet, Christ picks a Samaritan to teach the Jews that this man possessed a heart in comparison to the heartless individuals who bypassed the victim.
The word “neighbor” indicates nearness, those close to us and our community. In the parable, the good Samaritan treats the dying man in a neighborly manner despite not knowing him.
It is easy to focus on the good Samaritan stopping to help and miss the point that following his example goes even further. It means helping another in need regardless of geography, race, nationality, nearness or label.
St. John Paul II often spoke of solidarity, meaning we must possess global heartfelt concern for others. In his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis further adds that we are connected not only as person to person, but as human beings to all of God’s creation. When connectedness and solidarity are applied to ecology, the entire ecosystem is seen as a God-given neighbor with global needs.
The objection might be raised that we have enough problems in our own backyard without taking on global concerns for everyone and everything in the world.
But a lesson taught in grade school helps us understand what exactly is meant by being concerned for those in need.
In the city of Washington, sirens sound daily. As children, when we heard them we were taught to say a prayer for the person in the ambulance, the people whose home may have been burning, for the safety of the police responding to a crime and for the criminal committing it. We didn’t know these people or where they lived, and yet we connected with them through a short prayer for their safety.
This may seem like a pious act of kindness but it is much more — it keeps our hearts open to those in need even though they aren’t our physical neighbor. The more open our heart, the more possible it is to be a good Samaritan to a stranger in need.