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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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Jutta of Thuringia: Today's patroness of Prussia began her life amidst luxury and power but died the death of a simple servant of the poor.
<p>In truth, virtue and piety were always of prime importance to Jutta and her husband, both of noble rank. The two were set to make a pilgrimage together to the holy places in Jerusalem, but her husband died on the way. The newly widowed Jutta, after taking care to provide for her children, resolved to live in a manner utterly pleasing to God. She disposed of the costly clothes, jewels and furniture befitting one of her rank, and became a Secular Franciscan, taking on the simple garment of a religious.
</p><p>From that point her life was utterly devoted to others: caring for the sick, particularly lepers; tending to the poor, whom she visited in their hovels; helping the crippled and blind with whom she shared her own home. Many of the townspeople of Thuringia laughed at how the once-distinguished lady now spent all her time. But Jutta saw the face of God in the poor and felt honored to render whatever services she could.
</p><p>About the year 1260, not long before her death, Jutta lived near the non-Christians in eastern Germany. There she built a small hermitage and prayed unceasingly for their conversion. She has been venerated for centuries as the special patron of Prussia.</p> American Catholic Blog The confessional is not the dry-cleaner’s; it is an encounter with Jesus, with that Jesus who is waiting for us, who is waiting for us as we are.

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