“Who is my neighbor?” The question is posed in the language of exclusion. The lawyer is looking out at the people around him to determine whom he must love as he loves himself and whom he may safely dismiss as of no concern. Jesus does not answer the question in the form in which it is asked. Of course, the clear implication is that all people are my neighbors. Ethnic and religious differences, such as those between Jews and Samaritans are not a justification for excluding anyone from the category of neighbor. Moreover, there is the irony that the parable presents a despised outsider as more fitted to inherit eternal life than the religious professionals.
However, what really strikes me is the way Jesus changes the focus. I have a mental picture of the lawyer holding a flashlight and turning it outward to discern how far its light extends. Jesus takes the flashlight and turns it on the lawyer. “Who was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?” In other words, “Look at yourself. Put your energy into acting as a good neighbor. Stretch yourself to embrace all God’s people. Widen your circle.” In Jesus’ eyes, “Who is my neighbor?” is an irrelevant, inappropriate question.
- Sr. Mary O’Brien, C.P.