Neighbors and Strangers

by Orlando Hernandez

 The parable of the “Prodigal Father” is my most beloved because it presents such a portrait of our Loving, Creator Father in Heaven. But right next to this one I hold in my heart the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” This parable (Lk10:25-37) shows us two different portraits of our merciful Savior,Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI in his book “Jesus of Nazareth” writes that the Samaritan traveler represents our Lord, Healer, and Savior, as He intimately comes to the rescue of each member of our wounded humanity. Benedict goes on to say that the dying traveler also symbolizes our Lord, representing each hurting, bleeding human being as He takes upon Himself our sorry state through His Passion, and is brought to resurrection by our Loving Father (the Samaritan?). 

     But, what about the priest and Levite who passed by the afflicted man without helping him? Do they represent me and every one of us? A few years ago, some psychologists and sociologists in Boston did an experiment. They secretly filmed an actor, a heavy-set man in very shabby clothes on a wheelchair in a street corner . The actor suddenly feigned going into convulsions, making loud sounds, and falling from the wheelchair upon the concrete. He yelled out a few times and went silent. Passers-by would see him on the ground and would give him a wide berth. This went on for several minutes until finally some “good samaritans” stopped to attend him.

     Why did so many people keep away from him at first? Was it fear, indifference, racial prejudice, repulsion for the seemingly homeless man? Were they too busy with their own problems? Did they suspect this was a gimmick to get their money? Were they used to scenes like this? Would I have stopped to help him? Would I stop at a fresh accident site even though I have back problems? Would I dare to interrupt a beating of a person in the street? Am I brave enough to take such risks for a stranger? Or, are all these strangers our neighbors?

     Then, I think of my actual neighbors around my home. I try to say “Hi”, but I am not close to any one of them. I have never been to their houses or invited them to mine. Why am I so afraid to get involved with other folks? I do pray for them, but seem to prefer to keep my distance. Strangers, so many strangers, at church, in the subway, the supermarket, the street. Why are we so afraid of each other that we avoid making eye-contact, nodding in acknowledgement, or even smiling at each other ? I think of the many people that drift by my peripheral vision but never really see. And the images of thousands of suffering souls on the evening news, how can I live with this as a Christian?

     Only by faithfully engaging in contemplation with our Loving Savior, approaching Him even as the scholar of the law did and asking Him, “What can Ido?”, can I begin to find a way. 

     Lord, You are our Guide in the way of love of neighbor. You’re actually our closest neighbor! Let us enjoy our sacred time together and share the look of love. My wife, my family, they too are my neighbors because You live in them. Help me to truly show them Your love and mine. All the many Church Brothers and Sisters, who teach me and bring me healing and hope, they are also You. The people around my house, do I love them? I think so! I see their efforts at being good for their families. I see their efforts at being civil. Let me do a better job at seeking their eyes and smiles, letting them see that somebody sees them.

     Then, all the other people I run into: bless them Lord, help them, use me whenever I am needed for their sake. Help me to walk around in confidence that if I need it one of them will be “Neighbor” to me and help me. At my age, Lord, give me the peace of knowing that I am surrounded by so many well-meaning, even if imperfect people. My faith in You compels me to also have faith in them. Lord, help us to be compassionate and merciful with each other.You did not die on that Cross for the sake of a hopeless species. Remind us that we are worthy of Your Sacrifice, even if it is hard of us to believe it. You are the one who knows. You are the one who reigns. I trust in Your all-powerful Love. Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Amen.

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