Who Is My Neighbor?

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus’ instruction to love one’s neighbor as oneself prompts “a scholar of the law” to ask the question “who is my neighbor.” Jesus responds by telling the story we refer to as the parable of the Good Samaritan.

You remember the parable: A man is attacked by robbers, who leave him lying on the road half-dead. A priest notices him and passes by without helping. A Levite sees him and makes a wide berth around him. But then comes the despised Samaritan traveler, who stops and cares for the man. And not begrudgingly or minimally; he not only tends the mans’ wounds, but brings the man to an inn and pays for his being taken care of there.

I’ve shared before the account of an experiment that I always think of in connection with this parable. A class of seminarians was given the assignment to prepare a sermon on this parable of the Good Samaritan. They were divided into two groups – one group was given two hours to prepare the sermon and the second group was given twenty-four hours. They¬†then left the building. On that stairs of the building lay a man obviously in need of assistance (the subject of the experiment).

Can you guess the results? Almost none of the seminarians who had been given two hours to prepare their sermon stopped to aid the man as they left the building. Indeed, it was reported that one practically jumped over the man in his haste to get home to get to work on his assignment. A much higher number of the group given twenty-four hours stopped to give the man assistance.

The priest and the Levite were very important men. Doubtless they had many important things they had to do and decided they couldn’t take the time to stop and help an injured man. And the seminarians in the first group had only two hours to prepare their sermon.

Sadly, I don’t think the reaction in either case is all that uncommon. Most of us have not jumped over an injured person on the street without giving assistance. But we do – more often than we’d like to admit – behave more like the priest and Levite than like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. Some questions for reflection:

Are there times when what I’m doing seems so important that I fail to offer a greeting or even a smile to someone I pass in the hall at work?

Am I so wrapped up in my important task that I fail to even notice that someone is suffering and could use a word of encouragement or a hand on the shoulder from me?

Have I squandered opportunities to do a kindness for another because of my preoccupation with my own projects?

The answer to who is my neighbor is simple: All of those with whom I come in contact during the course of my day. We might ask ourselves every day: How am I doing in loving my neighbor?