DEFINITELY, not the one who happens to live close to us. Thatâ€™s a very shallow definition of neighbor, unable to capture the richness that our Christian faith teaches us.
Neighbor, according to Christ, is anybody with whom we have to love, giving ourselves to him the way Christ gave himself to all of us, irrespective of how we are, whether a friend or foe, and continues to do so. In other words, a neighbor in the Christian sense can be a complete stranger to us. He can even be an enemy.
This is verified in the gospel about the good Samaritan. A scholar of the law tried to test Christ by asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life. (Lk 10,25-37) When Christ responded by asking the scholar what was written in the law, the latter answered correctly that one has to love God with everything and your neighbor as oneself.Â But the scholar raised the notorious question, â€œAnd who is my neighbor?â€
Thatâ€™s when Christ narrated the story of the man who fell victim to robbers and was left on the road half dead. A priest passed by, also a Levite, but they did not bother to help. It was a Samaritan traveler, who was supposed to have no relation with the Jews, who came to his help.
When Christ asked who among the three proved to be the neighbor, the scholar had no choice but to say, the Samaritan, the one who treated the victim with mercy. And so Christ told him, â€œGo and do likewise.â€
Itâ€™s important that we broaden our understanding of who
our neighbor is. If our basic understanding of neighbor is that of a person who is quite close to us, then we have to understand that such closeness is not just something physical, material, social, etc.
That closeness should be all-inclusive, which means it can only be something spiritual and moral, something that is only generated by love, and a love that goes all the way to showing mercy that also goes beyond simply giving sympathy and compassion.
Obviously, this love-generated closeness can only take place if we are truly and vitally identified with Christ who is love personified, the quintessence of love, he who goes all the way to offer his life for all men, saints and sinners. We know that with his death, he bore all the sinfulness of men.
This kind of love that makes everyone a neighbor of ours is readily available and attainable, because Christ has made it so. In this, he is not sparing. Everything that we need to have that love has been given to us. Itâ€™s up to us to make use of it.
Ok, to have this kind of love is not easy. We have to contend with many and endless obstacles. Itâ€™s going to take our whole lifetime, in fact, and even more, to achieve that kind of love. But neither is it impossible.
If we only exercise our faith, and follow Christ closely, through his teaching and example that are now authoritatively taught and shown by the Church in all its dimensions, we can have that kind of love.
We just have to be game in this effort, never saying enough, and learning how to move on when we encounter setbacks along the way. We will discover that in spite of the trials and difficulties we can meet, we can enjoy some peace and joy, and a mysterious sense of fulfillment.
And we donâ€™t have to wait for some special and extraordinary opportunities and occasions to attain this kind of love.Â Even in our most isolated conditions, we can still generate that love simply by praying and doing what we have to do with great love for God and everybody else.
This love goes beyond the limits of time and space. It transcends the restrictions imposed by our various human and natural conditioningsâ€”biological, cultural, historical, social, political, etc. It even melts away the wall that classifies people into friends or foes.
Everyone becomes a neighbor with this kind of love. We may not know the names of people, their background and so on, but with this love, we somehow do away with anonymity. Everyone becomes known, because everyone is loved with the love of God.
We should be game with all the possibilities that our human condition can occasion, whether good or bad. We donâ€™t get entangled with that predicament. We get focused on what is truly important. And for this we are not afraid to suffer, just as Christ was not afraid even to die for all of us out of love.
(By Fr. Roy Cimagala)