Loving Our Neighbor as the Good Samaritan

What is life about?  Is life only the 80 or so years that we live on earth and then that’s the end?  Is there something after death?  Is there an eternity?  All this relates to the question of whether there truly is a God?  If so, if God truly exists, then we must ask ourselves, what must I do to live with God for all eternity!!!

This is the question that a lawyer asked Jesus, when he responded with one of the most beautiful parables. To live eternally, our Lord said, one must LOVE God with all our soul, strength, and mind, AND to love our neighbor! For love of God is impossible without love for our neighbor as well.

The greatest lesson of our Christian faith is that our love for God cannot be separated from our love for every other person in the world. 

For the common Jew of Jesus’ time, a neighbor would only be another Jew, someone of the same religious, ethnic background.  Many Jews would think it impossible to look upon a non-Jew in a loving, embracing way.  Do we have this same attitude, where we think that only our fellow Orthodox are our neighbors? But who really is my neighbor?

Jesus answers this question with a beautiful illustration.  One day a man was walking a dangerous road, when robbers beat him up, stole all that he had, and left him half dead.  As he laid there dying, a priest happened to be walking by.  The priest saw the dying man, but chose to ignore his suffering and continue walking.  Next was a worker of the temple passed by.  This man stopped to look at the dying man.  Maybe he even felt sorry for the man, but he didn’t want to interrupt his important schedule, so he kept walking on without helping.

Both of these men were supposedly people of God, religious leaders, people who may have felt pity for the suffering man, but who were unwilling to go out of their way to help him.  Maybe they had a good excuse not to stop and help because they were on their way to serve in the temple, or perform some other religious ceremony.  The Jewish law stated that anyone who would touch the body of a dead person became unclean, and these religious leaders knew that if they became unclean, they would not be allowed to serve in the temple for a period of time.

There is a story of a simple monk who one day was praying in his cell.  As this humble man prayed, suddenly a bright light began shining in his room.  He looked up and saw Christ in all his glory, surrounded by the angelic powers.  The monk gazed at this vision filled with awe and exaltation.  He felt himself richly blessed to see such a vision, and his heart was humbled with love and thanksgiving that the Lord should show such a vision to a humble monk.

Suddenly, his joy was interrupted by a familiar sound.  It was the church bell ringing, reminding all the monks to leave their cells and begin their daily work.  For this particular monk, his duty was to go to the gates of the monastery, and to pass out bread for the poor, gathered outside the monastery walls.

The holy man was filled with sorrow and doubt. Should he leave this holy vision in order to care for the common people?  Would he insult Christ by departing the room in order to face a crowd of ragged beggars? Surely, it would be better to stay kneeling in prayer until the vision disappeared.

However, the thought of the poor people waiting at the gates kept coming in his mind.  He remembered their hunger, suffering and poverty, and wondered whether it was right to make them wait in hunger and doubt even for a few minutes.  As he wrestled in his mind over the two conflicting thoughts, he tried to think of what Christ would do.  Finally, he went out to the gates.  Many poor people came that day.  The monk worked as quickly as he could, giving each beggar a loaf of bread with a smile.  But for each beggar who received a loaf, there seemed to be two more waiting to receive their share. 

Finally, after an hour, he finished and quickly ran back to his cell, wondering if the vision would still be there.  As soon as he opened the door, he fell back from the bright shining light of Christ welcoming him.  The vision had waited for him and now filled him with an inexpressible joy.  As the monk fell down on his face in adoration and love, he heard Christ say to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You made the right choice.  Had you stayed, I would have left.”

The religious people in the parable of today’s Gospel didn’t understand this concept.  They thought they had more important business to tend to, instead of taking care of a needy person.  In the parable, after the priest and the Levite passed by the dying man, a Samaritan walked by. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews.  They were religious heretics, who had no contact with Jews at all.

However, Jesus tells the story how this Samaritan, this enemy, this heretic, felt compassion for the dying man, and stopped to help him.  He anointed his wounds, bandaged him up, and then carried him on his own donkey to the nearest inn.  There, the Samaritan continued to care for him by leaving money with the innkeeper for any additional expenses he might incur.

 “Who acted as the true neighbor?” Jesus asked.  The men who were "religious" in theory but not in action, or the "heretic" who came from a racially impure people, and yet who practiced mercy and love. Jesus warns us not to be interested more in theoretical theology than in practical love.  Love for one another is the highest and greatest theology of our Orthodox Church.

We cannot say that we love God, if we do not have the same love for our neighbor.  St. John the Theologian calls people liars who say they love God yet hate their brother.  “For those who do not love their brother whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from Christ is this, that those who love God must love their neighbor also.” (1 Jn 4:20-21).

St. John Chrysostom said "Remember brothers that you will have to give an account not only of your life, but of everyone." St. Dorotheos of Gaza said, "The more one is united to his neighbor, the more he is united to God." 

I conclude with another story.  A wise old teacher was sitting around a fire with a number of young students.  As all sat in silence waiting for the wise man to speak, the teacher asked the question, “How can we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?” 

After some discussion among the students, one young man answered, “We know the night has ended and the day has begun when we can look in the distance and determine which animal is a dog and which animal is a sheep.”  “A good answer,” the teacher said, “But not the answer I’m looking for.”  After a period of time, another student suggested, “The night has ended and the day has come when light falls on the leaves, and we can tell whether the tree is a palm tree or a fig tree.”  “Another good answer,” he said, “but not the answer I seek.” 

After several more attempts, the students gave up and asked the elder, “What is the response you desire.”  The wise man softly answered, “You know that the night has ended and the day has begun when you are able to look into the eyes of every human being and see them as your brother and your sister.  If you cannot see a brother or sister in the other person, you will know that it will always be night.”

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