Today’s Gospel, the Good Samaritan—how we love to hear this story! We generally avoid people, trying not to make eye contact—on the street, in the subway, on the freeway, in the grocery store. But here is a story of one man who made eye contact with a stranger. He stopped what he was doing and looked at him as his brother. He loved his neighbor as himself.
The whole question revolves around the word “neighbor.” In the Gospel, a lawyer honestly questions Jesus—he really wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies: you know what to do—love God and love your neighbor. The lawyer cannot resist a bit of legal quibbling: “and who is my neighbor?” So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Question: “Who is my neighbor?” Answer: Every man is my neighbor. The word “neighbor,” after all, comes from the German “Nachbar,” which simply means the “nearby” one—your neighbor is anyone nearby. Treat every man, every woman, every child with mercy, and you will go to heaven. If the lawyer were looking for a loophole, Jesus does not afford him that satisfaction. Every man is my brother.
Every man is Jesus
In fact, every man is Jesus. So said Mother Teresa. It was the first thing I ever heard her say, and I realized immediately only a saint sees Jesus in every person. So the Samaritan finds a man beat up and bloody, and he knows that God is lying in the gutter. The Samaritan treats the wounded man with mercy, and so God treats the Samaritan with mercy. That’s how we get to heaven. Indeed, God is invisible to those who do not show mercy. As St. Paul says in the second reading: Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God. And Mother Teresa adds: the poor man is the image of the invisible Jesus. Jesus comes to us in every person we see every day, and he reveals the face of God to us in them.
“You have only to carry it out”
Moses tells the Israelites in the first reading: If only you would keep the commandments of God! You would increase and prosper and find true joy. And the command of God is not mysterious or remote: it is in your hearts already; you have only to carry it out. You can be a saint. I can be a saint. We can all go to heaven, and live in peace and joy here on earth. We have only to carry out the command of God already in our hearts. That command is so simple: love God, and love your neighbor.
Today you will leave Mass and see many people. Some will irritate you. Some will insult you. Some will weary you. Each one of them is Jesus. He walks the earth disguised as troublesome people, to teach us how to love. Love isn’t a feeling; it is a decision, and only this decision to love brings us true joy. Make the effort to love the people you don’t want to love. Practice charity again and again until you get it right. Take a deep breath and exercise patience. Force yourself to think of others even when your own head is hurting. Anticipate the other person’s needs and serve him, even when he doesn’t deserve it. Forgive that person who disrespects you.
Love hurts, at least in the beginning. Mercy costs us, sometimes a great deal. Mother Teresa was talking to a group of American professionals one time. “Smile at each other,” she said. “Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other—it doesn’t matter who it is—and that will help you to grow in greater love for each other.” One of the men (perhaps a lawyer) asked her, “Mother, are you married?” She responded: “Yes, I am, and sometimes Jesus asks a great deal of me, and it is hard to smile at him.” But she kept on smiling, and that is why she went to heaven. We can do the same, if we put our minds to it.