In Luke 10:25-37 we find a scholar of the law asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor”, and Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Christ calls His listener to see those in need, even those that we don’t like, as our neighbor, and as one to love. Except, Christ seems to be more specific than just those who are in need are our neighbors. That notion is a bit general. No, instead He seem to say that person right in front of us is our neighbor. Ok, you might say, cool, I get that, what’s the fuss about.
So often in society today there are various movements to help those distant from us. For example we do 5ks to help people in war zones, cure diseases, and any number of various causes. Or we sign petitions or any number of things to help other people that are at a distance from ourselves. Our motivation is to help those less fortunate, and this is a good thing. After all, we are trying to help people in need. We love to do things to help others and make the world a better place.
Man or Mankind?
Here’s the thing though, when we do this, what are trying to help? So often when we just support organizations instead of people directly, we become disconnected from those that we are striving to help. Serving other stops being about loving another person themselves, but more about the idea of helping others. We become disconnected from that person helped and the action we did to aid them. When we stop directly helping another, we start to expect organizations to help others and solve our problems, instead of us fixing them here in now. Shortly, our neighbor becomes the organization and mankind as an idea, not those people right in front of us or those helped by the organization. Now, if you support charitable organizations that doesn’t mean that this is who you are. Instead, I am attempting to draw to light our motivations of why we support charitable organizations.
Are we motivated by the fact that we are helping an actual living person or by the general idea of man? You might wonder, what’s the difference? If I serve mankind don’t I serve actual people? Here’s the thing, it’s easy to love an idea, but hard to love actual people. I love the idea of loving my enemy, those people I live with, of serving others, of . Ideas are the easiest things in the world to love. It’s hard to actually living them out. If we just serve mankind, we stop loving people and instead begin to love ideas alone or organizations. Instead of actually going to a soup kitchen, all we do is give money or raise awareness of hunger. These things are needed for a successful soup kitchen, however, so often we can hide behind serving mankind instead of actually serving man in person.
So who is my neighbor?
Returning to the parable above, the Samaritan was a neighbor because he actually helped a dying man along the road. He had skin in the game so to speak. The parable makes our neighbor not just those in need, in an abstract or distant sense, but those right in front of us. This also brings to mind Mt 5:43-44,
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
Our neighbor isn’t just those that we like, or those that it is cool to associate with, or those that are like us. Our neighbor is all those, plus our enemy, those who aren’t like us, those who are outcasts, in short, everyone we meet. When Christ says that these are our neighbors, He means that we have to love them, we have to see them as “one of us”, and be there to help them when they need help. Truly, we are to make Christ present to those who are our neighbors, which is that person right in front of you here and now.
Yes, we should strive to help those on the other side of the world, but we must serve our neighbor. Just imagine if all Christians treated their neighbor with caritas (Christian Love). We wouldn’t have to worry about those across the world, because they would be the neighbor of someone there that treated them with caritas. The world would be made anew, if only we in the here and now where ever we are, loved our neighbor.