We live in perhaps one of the most divided eras of our nation’s history. While the dust is beginning to settle from this rough year, it still feels like at any moment another vicious cultural war could break out. How does the Christian respond? By being a neighbor.
It’s difficult to imagine the full ramifications of what it means to be a neighbor because true neighborhoods are a dying entity in our country.
In the Gospel of Luke, Christ explains to us the archetype of a neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. On the road to Jericho, the parable goes, a man was robbed and beaten half-dead. A priest walks by, sees him, but doesn’t help. A Levite walks by, sees him, but doesn’t help either. A Samaritan— a person whom we would expect to be an enemy of the man— finally picks him up, takes him to an inn, and cares for him. That man, our Lord tells us, is the true neighbor.
A true neighbor does not only offer mercy to somebody on his team. He offers mercy to anyone, regardless of who they are. In order to do so, he must reject the tribalism that has infected our culture.
Being this kind of neighbor is difficult. I’ve had neighbors who were drug addicts; others were grumpy; many spoke a different language; and others who had completely different world views and were aggressively fighting against my own. Rather than dealing with those people, it’s much easier to reinterpret “neighbor” to mean those people you prefer to deal with. Isolated in your ideological ghetto, it’s much easier to be a neighbor.
Christ calls us to be a much more radical kind of neighbor, that cannot be reduced to ideological unity. Fueled by the divine zeal given in the sacraments, the Christian is called to offer mercy to everyone, not only those we want to be around. The “works of mercy” here are a useful guide. One vital component of this is the corporal works of mercy— such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or clothing the naked. Being a neighbor certainly means helping others with their material needs. But this is incomplete. More important and more challenging are the spiritual works of mercy. This involves challenging others in their relationship to God, to lead them to know, love, and serve the Truth that is our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s “Great Commission” is just that: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) Often, showing mercy involves the often-uncomfortable mandate of preaching the Gospel, using both words and actions.
As we prepare for Christ’s coming this Advent, let us combat the tribalism and division in our country by being merciful not only to those we prefer to be around, but to anyone who is in need of it.
Br. Elias Guadalupe Ford, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation Ở ĐÂY