Who is my Neighbor?
Never in my life time has our nation been more divided. Political, religious and racial divisions threaten to tear this country apart, making today’s readings are as relevant and critical as they have ever been. Where is the Voice of God in all of this? And, who is my neighbor?
Moses, the great law giver, answers the first question. He assures that the Voice of God is not too mysterious or remote for us to handle. Don’t have to go looking for it up the sky or across the sea. No! Moses explains that the Voice of God is something very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts…we only have to carry it out. In other words, the Voice of God is the voice of our conscious. Our awareness of the moral law. Our ability to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Or put another way, the Voice of God is our sense of moral obligation, guided by His teachings. The inner voice that comes from a discerning soul.
And what is the Voice of God encouraging us, urging us to do? Simply, to heed His Voice and keep His command to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself. Easy enough. Or is it? The lawyer in today’s Gospel can’t help himself as he continues to test Jesus. “And just who is my neighbor", the lawyer asks? When we know the answer to this question, our ability to heed His Voice and keep His commands becomes more difficult. Much more difficult.
Because, if my “neighbors” are my family and friends – or at least those I like – it’s easy to love them. If my neighbor has something of value for me or is someone who can do favors for me, it’s easy to love them. But what if my neighbor is somebody I don’t know? Who has nothing to offer me? Who obviously can’t do anything for me? Or worse, what if my neighbor is someone I don’t like? Someone who has hurt me? Can’t I draw the line somewhere between neighbor and stranger, or between neighbor and enemy?
Of course, the answer is no. Those Jesus considered his neighbors, those he spent his time caring for, were the undesirables, the marginalized, the sick, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and other sinners. In our present time, my neighbor includes that friend or family member who hurt me, and the schoolmate or co-worker who spreads rumors about me, and the homeless man who wanted to ask me for help before I turned away and pretended not to see him. Do we honestly love these kinds of neighbors as much as we love ourselves? Do we treat them with mercy, as the Samaritan does in the Gospel? Or do we ignore their needs? Or cause them more harm?
Those of us who are Christians – those of us who were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – in keeping His commands, are supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Are we the peacemakers in our homes, schools, places of work, and in our communities, or are we willing participants in the dissension and discord that is tearing them apart? Do we speak well of others and encourage them, or are we the ones putting them down? As Christians, we are not supposed to hate others, even if they are different than we are. If someone doesn’t agree with my view of the world, it doesn't give me a license to discriminate or speak badly of them.
Here’s a test. For those of us who use Facebook and other social media, what kind of content are we posting? Are we posting and sharing disparaging remarks about others? Are we fanning the flames of this year's political campaigns? For those of us who hate one of the presidential candidates, how many of us have prayed for them and for their conversion? I’m sorry to report that I know a deacon – an ordained servant of Jesus Christ – who posts hateful content on his Facebook all day, every day. When confronted, he says, “But it’s the truth! I have a duty to tell the truth!” “What’s the truth”, I asked him? Because the truth, I reminded him, is not an idea, or a political ideology, or even a philosophy. The truth is a person, and the person is Jesus Christ. And Jesus was a uniter, not a divider!
Division is nothing new. Back then, just as there is today, there were sharp divisions between races and religions, between the Jews, the Samaritans, and the gentiles. Satan divides. God unites. Jesus became man precisely to destroy that which seeks to divide us, to reconcile all things to Himself by uniting us to the Blood of His Cross.
So where do we fit in? Are we dividers or are we uniters? Do we stand with Satan or do we stand with Jesus? We can’t come to church on Sunday, claiming to be a lover of God and neighbor, and then spend the rest of the week, seeding hate and causing hurt with those we don’t like and those who don’t agree with our view of the world. That’s a false Christianity. It’s a fraud.
The day before Saint Pope John Paul II died, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in a homily: "Above all, that of which are most in need of at this moment in history, are men [and women], who by the way they live, render God credible in this world. The negative testimony of Christians who speak about God and live against Him, has darkened God’s image and opened the door to disbelief.” How much more urgent is this message today?
Today’s headline on CNN: Where is the leadership that can bring an end to all of this madness, violence and division? Apparently, not from Washington, not from Austin. The leadership we need is right here. It’s got to start with each of us. If I change, I can change my family. If my family changes, we can change my village. If my village changes, we can change our country. But the change has to start with me.
We can’t be too quick to judge those who are different, or too fearful of those who don’t look like us, or too angry with those who offend us. We cannot allow ourselves to become like those of ancient Rome who got their thrills and entertainment watching gladiators slaughter each other on the floor of the Coliseum.
Martin Luther King said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Only the Light and Love of God can drive out the evil that seeks to divide this nation.
Heavenly Father, may the Eucharistic Sacrifice of this Holy Mass reconcile us to You and to each other, and strengthen us and inspire us – each of us – to be instruments of Your Light and Your Love.