FINDING LIFE BY BEING A NEIGHBOUR TO OTHERS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Dt 30:10-14; Ps 69 OR Ps 19 ; Col 1:15-20; LK 10:25-37]
It is ironical that today many of us have a higher standard of education, faster and more effective means of communication, and a higher standard of living, yet the goal of finding happiness in life seems to be illusory. This desire for happiness is implanted in our hearts. No one can live without happiness. But where do we look for happiness? This is the question that the scribe asked the Lord, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was a similar question posed to the Lord by the rich man as well. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17)
It is significant that both the scribe and the rich man were asking the same question and both seem to know the answer. The scribe was an interpreter of the scriptures. He knew all the laws that could bring him eternal life. Surely he would have understood more than anyone else the laws of Moses. Indeed, he even summarised the essence of the Law when the Lord asked him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” So, too, was the reply of the rich man, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth” when Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments: You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”
We, too, are like them. We think we have the answers to the meaning of life. Many of us have tried to follow the laws but we have found them burdensome and they appear to prevent us from living life to the fullest. Deep in our hearts, we want to rebel against the commandments of God. We feel that some of the commandments are taking away our freedom and our joy in life. And even if we try to practise them, we become grumpy, envious of others who do not have a religion and could do whatever they like, or we simply cannot keep the commandments because of human weakness. So knowing the commandments does not necessarily give us life or give us the capacity to keep them.
What is the answer to the meaning of life? The answer is found not in the laws but in the Law which is this, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus said, “Do this and life is yours.” Loving God, self and neighbour is the key to fullness of life. Yet, these three aspects of love, whilst distinguished, cannot be separated. This is the crux of the solution to finding happiness in life if we hold all these three dimensions of love together. When we separate or compartmentalized these three-faceted love, we find ourselves incomplete in love and therefore in happiness.
This was the weakness or misunderstanding of the scribe. He loved God, but he lacked love for his neighbour. He was a man who was imbued with the Word of God. He studied the laws and sought to meticulously observe the laws. He loved the Law above all other things. He was akin to the priest and the Levite who saw the wounded man on the roadside hanging on to his life, and “passed by on the other side.” Strictly speaking, they were not wrong. They were simply being obedient to the laws. The priest was observing what the law of Moses dictated, “He shall not go where there is a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother.” (Lev 21:1a) “Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean seven days.” (Num 19:11) So they were in fact putting the worship of God before man, which is required by the Law. So there seems to be a dichotomy here.
The crux of today’s gospel is whether we can truly claim that we love God when we close our hearts to the sufferings of our neighbours. St John wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 Jn 4:20f) St James wrote, “You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Jms 2:8)
Indeed, the only way to show our love for God is to love our neighbours. God is found in our neighbours, especially those who are in need. He is identified with every man because we are all created in the image and likeness of God. In the second reading we read that “Christ Jesus is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation” and also that “the Church is his body, he is its head.” Christ reveals to us the image of God in His very life of love and compassion, forgiveness and mercy for His fellowmen. We too who are called to be His body, are therefore to love our neighbours as well because we are all parts of His one body and He is the Head. So to love Christ is to love our neighbours. Having reverence for the Holy Eucharist but not having regard for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters contradicts what the Eucharist really is, the body of Christ. When one of Mother Teresa’s nuns came back from helping the sick in one of the houses, Mother Teresa asked her what she did all day. Her reply was, “I spent three hours with Jesus!”
To love our neighbour is really to love ourselves. A person is alive only when he or she feels the humanity within him or her. We are very much ourselves when we learn to feel with others. Compassion is when one is able to identify with the sufferings of one’s fellowmen. Compassion is only possible when we make the sufferings of others our own. That is why, when there is compassion, we do not judge a person. We feel the pain and sufferings of our fellowmen and there is this instinct to alleviate their sufferings as if they are ours. It is when we feel with others, we become united to them in their pain and suffering. We share their pain and when they are uplifted, we also share their joys as well. In sharing their sorrows and joys, we become one with our brothers and sisters. This makes us human and gives us a joy that money cannot buy. To know that we can make a difference in the lives of others, to give them hope, encouragement, relief or to help them to smile and make their day, gives us a joy that only sincere love and compassion can bring.
This is the law of love written in our hearts, as Moses said in the first reading. “For this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.” God has created us for love. Without love, we are nothing. To love does not mean to love oneself selfishly and in a self-centred way. The best way to love oneself is to love others, for by loving others, our love and joy is multiplied. When we love ourselves selfishly, that love will not bring life but only death. It might bring pleasure but it cannot bring joy.
What about loving God first as a commandment? If we love God and worship Him, it is only so that we can experience His love, be empowered by His love for us so that we can imitate Him in love. Again St John makes it clear when he wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 Jn 4:10-12) For this same reason, it is important that those who do social work or any form of apostolate, must always come to the Lord to be strengthened in love before we can go out to proclaim His love. Otherwise, using our own strength alone, will lead us to frustration when we face difficulties and trials.
So if we want to live the fullness of life, what must we do? There is a reversal of understanding of who is the neighbour at the end of the gospel. The scribe asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” At the end of the parable, Jesus asked him, “Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.'” The neighbour turned out to be the Samaritan, not the wounded man! In other words, instead of looking out for a wounded man to come before us so that we can help him, we are called to be a neighbour to everyone who comes our way. We must proactively be a neighbour to others by accepting and caring for them, near and far. It could be your elderly at home, your friend at school, a colleague at work. The question, therefore, is not “who is your neighbour?’ but “are you a neighbour?” If we make ourselves a neighbour to others then life is ours!
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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