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Bible Reflections View Comments

Our Neighbors Aren't Always Like Us
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013
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Our summer is still marked by reminders of the Boston Marathon bombings, just three months ago. One of the side stories that emerged was the difficulty in finding a place to bury the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother suspected in the bombings. Martha Mullen, in Virginia, heard about the problem and contacted several Islamic funeral organizations in her area and they agreed to work with her to see that he was buried properly. They, too, had been concerned.

In an interview with NPR, Mullen said, “Jesus tells us to—in the parable of the Good Samaritan—to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. That was the biggest motivation, is that, you know, if I’m going to live my faith, then I’m going to do that which is uncomfortable and not necessarily what's comfortable.”

Jesus’s listeners would have considered Samaritans to be enemies and heretics. The Samaritans, for their part, would have resented the Jewish majority. They reflected an ethnic and national bias that colored their perspective and their expectations. Both sides most likely caricatured the other. For Jesus to make a Samaritan the hero of is parable was unthinkable. But he did it to make the point that to be a neighbor to others, to love our neighbors as ourselves, we need to show mercy and compassion to anyone in need.

If the Samaritan is the last person the audience would have expected to be the hero, the priest and the Levite, committed to serving God, might have been the first. Scholars have long speculated about why they passed by the beaten man without stopping to help. Generally, the conclusion is that they were on their way to the Temple and were concerned about maintaining ritual purity. Touching an injured or dying person would have kept them from their duties according to the law. This drives home the point Jesus makes again and again the Gospels: Compassion always trumps legalism. Elsewhere in the Gospels, he quotes the prophet Hosea, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.”

We can say that we don’t want to reach out to the neediest among us, but we can’t say that the Gospel does not call us to do exactly that. We can list reasons why terrorist and murderers should be outside the bounds of common human decency, but we do not have the right to place them outside God’s infinite mercy. Whether we fear for our safety, our reputations, our health, or our pocketbooks, we have to live with the knowledge that in so far as we are unable to overcome that fear, we will be limited in our growth toward holiness.

For most of us, our parish communities are filled with people who look like us and talk like us and share our social and cultural values. We avoid certain parts of town, the places where “those people” live. We judge people on the news, especially if they’re not “one of us.” It can be difficult to break out of this comfort zone.

Maybe the place to begin is to make an effort not to look the other way. As we learn to see the need and the suffering around us, we will discover ways to help alleviate that suffering. Our first efforts to help may seem small and insignificant. But if we persist, we might be surprised at where the Spirit leads us.



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Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta): Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the tiny woman recognized throughout the world for her work among the poorest of the poor, was beatified October 19, 2003. Among those present were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1950 as a diocesan religious community. Today the congregation also includes contemplative sisters and brothers and an order of priests. 
<p>Born to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje, Macedonia (then part of the Ottoman Empire), Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu was the youngest of the three children who survived. For a time, the family lived comfortably, and her father's construction business thrived. But life changed overnight following his unexpected death. </p><p>During her years in public school Agnes participated in a Catholic sodality and showed a strong interest in the foreign missions. At age 18 she entered the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. It was 1928 when she said goodbye to her mother for the final time and made her way to a new land and a new life. The following year she was sent to the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling, India. There she chose the name Teresa and prepared for a life of service. She was assigned to a high school for girls in Kolkata, where she taught history and geography to the daughters of the wealthy. But she could not escape the realities around her—the poverty, the suffering, the overwhelming numbers of destitute people. </p><p>In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.” She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.” </p><p>After receiving permission to leave Loreto, establish a new religious community and undertake her new work, she took a nursing course for several months. She returned to Kolkata, where she lived in the slums and opened a school for poor children. Dressed in a white sari and sandals (the ordinary dress of an Indian woman) she soon began getting to know her neighbors—especially the poor and sick—and getting to know their needs through visits. </p><p>The work was exhausting, but she was not alone for long. Volunteers who came to join her in the work, some of them former students, became the core of the Missionaries of Charity. Others helped by donating food, clothing, supplies, the use of buildings. In 1952 the city of Kolkata gave Mother Teresa a former hostel, which became a home for the dying and the destitute. As the order expanded, services were also offered to orphans, abandoned children, alcoholics, the aging, and street people. </p><p>For the next four decades Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor. Her love knew no bounds. Nor did her energy, as she crisscrossed the globe pleading for support and inviting others to see the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On September 5, 1997, God called her home.</p> American Catholic Blog A healthy marriage is that it is a witness of Jesus’s love for the 
Church. We are the bride of Christ, and the greatest declaration of the groom’s love is found at the cross. The complete gift of self by Jesus at Calvary is so entire that it is life-giving.

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