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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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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog God had a plan even before he created Adam and Eve. God is never caught off guard. He knows all. He sees all. And he is working all things together for the good of his children. Nothing can stop his plan of mercy and love.

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