Monday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time
Jonah 1:1-2:1, 11; Jonah 2:3-5,8, Luke 10:25-37
I recall a strange incident when I was in school. I was with some friends at the train station on the way home when we say an oldish lady falling near the turnstiles. In our youthful enthusiasm to help, we rushed to hear side, ready to help her up from the fall. Her reaction to us was unexpected: she turned quite sternly to us and said ‘Don’t touch me. You think I can’t help myself?’ We recoiled in shock and slunk away into the bowels of the station. The incident played in my mind for a while and during that time, I wondered if we should bother reaching out to help others. Should we be busybodies and try to help?
Recalling this incident in the light of how many people approach their relations can make one a little worried. Have we become so wrapped up in keeping some semblance of individuality that we refuse to help others or go so far as to refuse the help from well-intentioned strangers? If that’s the case, then should we not bother to help if others aren’t going to accept it? The gospel today challenges us to go beyond this and to consider who our neighbours are and in the process, do the exact opposite of what the world seems to be hinting to us. We’re called to help and to do so without limit almost.
Altruism seems to have received a bad reputation of late. Being a ‘do-gooder’ has become somewhat derogatory as its seen either as a sign of weakness or oncoming insanity. But that’s exactly what’s being asked of us – to emulate the Samaritan in helping even those who might have persecuted us in the past and to do so without even thinking about the cost. We should not stand idly by even if we might have good reasons not to help (like the levite or priest might have had).
What’s wrong with just minding my own business and not causing harm to others? Why can’t I live a good life like that? Tempting as that may sound, scripture tells us that that approach can lead one into sin, the sin of omission. St James states that “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17) If something is in our capacity to do and we don’t do it, we actually sin because we turn away from the creations of God who, in their own way, reflect the goodness of God. By turning away from those who might need our help, we turn away from God.
And of course there are consequences. Just look at Jonah in the first reading. He chose not to do the right thing and run away from the call of God to prophesy in Nineveh. The consequence of this was that he had to spend three days in the belly of a fish (which would not be pleasant at all) and get vomited out on shore after that ordeal. Not the most salutary of images but something to make us remember that there are good reasons for not running away and trying our best to do the will of the Lord.
So now what? Who are these neighbours that we are called to help? The scribes asked that and perhaps it’s actually the wrong question to ask in this context. It seems like the Lord is calling us not to think about WHO our neighbour is but to actually BE the neighbour to others. This seems to be the answer to the scribes – don’t worry about who these neighbours are, just go out and be the neighbour to others and love them as we as we can. And to do this despite being laughed at and reviled.
We’re called to stop asking who our neighbours are and to recognise that we are the neighbours to others, to get out of the cycle of apathy and actually do something. To reduce the so-called ‘paralysis of analysis’ that the scribes seem to subscribe to (pun intended) and to concentrate on doing whatever good we can in our own little ways. After all, we’re called not to be do-gooders but just simple neighbours aren’t we?
I’ll leave you with a song that seems to say all that is needed.