Racism, Prejudice and the Good Samaritan

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“Orthodoxy condemns in an irrevocable manner the inhuman system of racial discrimination and the sacrilegious affirmation whereby such systems claim to be an in agreement with Christian ideals. When asked “who is my neighbor?”, Christ answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Thus, He taught us to demolish all barriers of enmity and prejudice. Orthodoxy confesses that each human being – independently of color, religion, race, nationality or language – is a bearer of the image of God, is our brother or sister, an equal member of the human family.”  (from The 1986 Chambesy statement, found in For the Peace from Above, p. 82)  

See also my post Feeling the Sting of the Good Samaritan Parable

Feeling the Sting of the Good Samaritan Parable

Many people have noted that Jesus was not crucified because he tried to please the powers that be or because He told stories that were too hard to understand.   He was executed exactly because his actions caused apprehension to the people in power, and his teachings and parables clearly stung those who held positions of authority.

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Perhaps as one way of understanding the sting of the parables we Americans might consider the Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) retold in a way that we feel what Christ’s listeners would have felt.  To do so we may have to tell the parable in two versions so that the opposite pole antagonists in America can hear the parable with the same burning bite Christ’s audience would have felt. [And note, I kept the story in the “he” just to be consistent, but you can tell the story in the “she” for the same effect for the point of my retelling lies not in the gender of any of the people involved.]

Version 1

A Republican went down from a red state to a blue state, and fell among illegal immigrant thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain Orthodox priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a successful business person arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Democrat, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, brought him to the emergency room, and staid up with him all night making sure he was cared for. On the next day, when he departed, he took out his credit card and told the hospital billing department, ‘Take care of him; and since they stole his wallet and he doesn’t have any money, or an ID, or an insurance card, whatever  you spend, charge it to my account.’ “So,” Jesus asks, “which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And we said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said,, “Go and do likewise.”

Version 2

“A Democrat went down from a blue state to a red state, and fell among gun toting thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain Orthodox priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a community organizer arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Republican, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, brought him to the emergency room, and staid up with him all night making sure he was cared for. On the next day, when he departed, he took out his credit card and told the hospital billing department, ‘Take care of him; and since they stole his wallet and he doesn’t have any money, or an ID, or an insurance card, whatever  you spend, charge it to my account.’ “So,” Jesus asks, “which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And we said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said,, “Go and do likewise.”

In America today, we seem totally divided as Democrats vs Republicans – every bit as divided as were Jews against Samaritans. But we claim to be a Christian nation.  So are we going to stop beating each other up like a bunch of thieves, leaving the others for dead?  These thieves are not the heroes in Christ’s parable.  Are we instead going to understand that what makes America great, what has been a strength sparking our ingenuity is our very diverse population?   The melting pot forged an American alloy which has proven quite strong and resilient in a world of adversity.

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We don’t have to agree on every issue, and in fact that is going to be impossible in a diverse culture.  But what makes our nation strong and great is that we have found ways to unite ourselves as a people despite our disagreements.  We were able to unite very diverse peoples in our Revolutionary War and we defeated the most powerful empire of that day.  Our Founding Fathers found the way to get people who disagreed on a great many things, and who had greater loyalty to their state than to a country, to work together as one nation under God to form these united states, a more perfect union.  The lessons and examples are there to be learned.

Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand…”  (Matthew 12:25)

Every Neighbor is Christ

The Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) deals with several questions which were asked or Jesus or implied in a conversation He had with a Jewish lawyer.  There are the stated questions of the lawyer:  Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  “And who is my neighbor?”  And there are the questions Jesus asked in return: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”  and  “ which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”  Implied is the question: who is the person to whom I can be a neighbor?

Through the centuries Christians have attempted to live the Gospel commandments and to establish rules and guidelines to help each other fulfill the teachings of Christ.  St. Benedict of Nursia was one monk who attempted to help his fellow Christians follow Christ.

For it was the central purpose of Benedict’s Rule to teach novice monks how to “renounce themselves in order to follow Christ,” how to “advance in the ways [of Christ] with the Gospel as our guide,” and, by persevering in the monastic life, how to “share by patience in the passion of Christ and hereafter deserve to be united with him in his kingdom” – in a single formula, “not to value anything more highly than the love of Christ.” The love of Christ, moreover, modified one of the basic impulses that had originally led to the rise of monasticism. “Deep in the monastic consciousness is solitude,” writes a historian of Western asceticism. But, he continues, “you discover to your vexation that deep in the Christian consciousness, ran the axiom that you must receive strangers as though they were Christ, and they really might be Christ.”

Therefore, quoting the Gospel (Matt. 25:35), Benedict specified in his Rule: “All guests coming to the monastery shall be received as Christ.”

(Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries, Mary Through the Centuries, pp. 143-144)

Treat the person you meet, neighbor or stranger, as you would treat Christ.

Samaritans Good and Bad

Luke’s inclusion of several narratives about Samaritans demonstrates also his interconnection with peace and justice, as God’s gospel way in Jesus Christ to overcome enmity and evil. The lawyer by seeking to justify himself draws forth Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In the face of God’s love commands, the lawyer seeks self-justification. In contrast, Jesus’ parable shows love compassionately aiding not only an unknown neighbor, but a known enemy – and the hands of love are those of a Samaritan! The narrative shifts from the question, “who is the neighbor whom I am commanded to love?” to another, “am I a loving neighbor even to the enemy?”

To be such a neighbor ensures one of eternal life, and it does not test with evil intent the Teacher of truth and life. The Good Samaritan story climaxes Luke’s first segment in his Journey Narrative, which is thus framed by the Samaritan theme, for in 9:54 the disciples wanted to rain fire down upon a Samaritan village because of its rejection of the journeying prophet Jesus (cf. 2 Kgs. 1:10, 12). But Jesus rebuked them (9:55), thus expelling their evil desire.

(Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace, pp. 143-144)

The Good Samaritan in a Dangerous World

[Sermon notes.  12 November 2017.  Annual Parish Meeting.]

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.   (Ephesians 2:4-10)

“even when we were dead in trespasses” –  This refers to us in the Church, not those outside the Church!  WE were dead in our sins.  We parishioners have experienced both death in our sins and resurrection in our Christ.   God’s love comes to us while we are still sinners (Romans 5:8).   We wouldn’t need God’s love, favor, grace, forgiveness if we were sinless.   We can only be raised with Christ if we are dead.  There would be no need for a resurrection if we hadn’t died first.

“made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” –  sitting together in church, we are in the heavenly place.  The parish church is that heavenly place where we sit together in Christ Jesus

“we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” –  that is another image of the parish.  We are God’s craftmanship, built to do good works.  That is why we need an active, functioning parish community so that we an work together for the good.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Our parish – we give from our budget $1700/month to charity.  This is above and beyond all the charity projects we take on each month.  Because we are a true commuter parish, we don’t have a strong sense of a location identity.  Very few of us live in the locality of the church, so our charity work is not so locally focused, but is outreach to other peoples, areas, projects.

We as parish must never cease to be the good neighbor, the good Samaritan to everyone whose path  bring them to our community.  Or whose paths we cross in our sojourning.   Christ makes it clear that being the good neighbor is something He values in us and expects from us.

Christ does not use the parable to talk about how the government should have done more to protect the man walking down to Jericho.  He doesn’t use the parable to say more police or a bigger army is needed, nor does Jesus advocate self defense, carrying weapons, pre-emptive strikes.   His point in the parable is be neighborly, be charitable.

Ethics thought puzzle – what if the Good Samaritan had arrived just a little bit earlier on the scene, in time to prevent the crime from happening, would Christ have blessed his use of force (even lethal force) to prevent the crime?  Or are Christians only to step in to offer comfort once the crime/suffering has been inflicted?  Jesus doesn’t say.  Whatever we might think in answer to those questions, we still must be neighborly.

Today, beause of the events of mass shootings in churches, many people feel unsafe, and feel the parish needs to consider safety and security for its members.  The shepherds of old took action to protect their flocks, including attacking the attackers.  Doesn’t the church have an obligation to protects its members and make the parish a safe and secure place for its members?

We are obliged to behave as neighbors, no matter what other security or safety measures we think are necessary.

Satan’s victory comes not in killing us but in converting us to his way of thinking and behaving.  If we abandon our principles, our discipleship in order to follow the logic of he world, then we have lost the battle with evil.   We are after all disciples of the Crucified One, who rose from the dead.  Killing  us does not cut us off from Christ and rather works to the contrary in keeping us united to the Son of God.   Our being killed by others is not the greatest thing we have to fear.  Jesus said:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:4 )

We Christians may be threatened by other people.  Yet, our warfare is not against those who do us bodily harm.  We may have to take steps too ensure the safety of our congregations, but we also have to remember that in Scripture we are told how to arm and defend ourselves.  As St. Paul exhorts us:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints  …  (Ephesians 6:10)

Being the Loving Neighbor

What is the responsibility of Orthodox Christians for people of other faiths?

 Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who because of where he lives has to deal not only with non-Orthodox Christians, but non-Christians and even anti-Christians offers us some idea.   

“If for no other reason, Christians and those of other religions should engage in dialogue and work together for the common good in a ‘fellowship of love.’ He says, for example, that ‘A faithful Christian has ‘to become a neighbor’ to each and every man, regardless of race, religion, language, guilt, especially in time of crisis.'”  (Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, p. 72)

Archbishop Anastasios’ comments call to mind the Gospel lesson of Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Elder Aimilianos on The Good Samaritan

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Archimandrite Aimilianos comments on how the unfortunate man of the parable is really each of us.

“After this, St. Makarios tells us that ‘all creatures saw the king who had been given to them.’ The sky, the earth, the animals, and all the angels and heavenly powers, had been placed under a king. Who? Man. Yes, man was made king even of the angelic powers because whereas they are ministering spirits, sent forth to serve (Heb. 1:14), man was created a king, according to the image of God (Gen. 1:26). ‘They saw the king who had been given to them become a slave of evil powers.’ He who had been given authority over all the angels, and was exalted over all heaven and earth, became the slave of a fallen angel. ‘Then his soul was cloaked in darkness, bitter and evil, for he was now the slave of darkness. He was the man who ‘fell to robbers’ and was ‘left for dead’ on the road ‘from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10:30-37).’ The man in the parable was Adam, although all of us, in our own way, retrace his steps, and fall victim to the same spiritual robbers. See the sermon ascribed to St. Basil, On the Passions 9: ‘He (i.e. the devil) managed to drag man down from Jerusalem to Jericho: from the high place to the valley, because Jerusalem sits on a hilltop, whereas Jericho lies below the level of the Dead Sea. Leaving the security of Jerusalem, man fell among thieves, who wounded him and stripped him of his garments. First came the wound, then the stripping. The wound of the soul is sin. The stripping is the removal of the soul’s garment of incorruption. And this happens because sin obliterates the grace given to us in Baptism. Thus fornication is a wound, as is adultery, and so is resentment and envy, and all other such things, which strike the soul like a band of robbers; these robbers are the demons, who, by exploiting our impulse to sin, attack and wound us. And after the wound comes the stripping. If we were speaking of bodily things, the stripping would precede the wound, but here the wound comes first, so that you might learn that sin precedes the loss of grace, which was given to us by the Lord.” ( The Way of the Spirit, p 240)

 

Martin Luther King Holiday (2016)

Martin Luther King Jr. whose federal holiday is today in the USA,  told the following story:

I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. . . . That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”

And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”   (Jim Wallis, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, Kindle Loc. 1565-74)

Good Samaritans and Syrians

I want to revisit the Gospel lesson of Luke 10:25-37, the Good Samaritan, one more time to reflect on the current refugee crisis and what a Christian response might look like.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

I remember once hearing a military chaplain reflect on the above Gospel parable.  His question was, do Christians have to wait until the person is robbed and beat up before being the Good Samaritan?  Do we have any ethical obligation to intervene and spare someone suffering rather than just wait for someone to be victimized?

The moral question is important.  For the refugee crisis today, we Christians have opportunity to intervene and spare some people from being nothing but victims.  We can intervene and help them now and not wait until the victims are devastated and re-victimized again and again.   Some may argue that is what military action against the Islamic State is – pre-preemptive work to stop further suffering.   I’m suggesting our willingness to care for fleeing refugees spares them further suffering and is an action we as Christians can take.

Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan represents His moral sense, and He teaches the parable to instruct us in what the morality of God’s Kingdom looks like for us Christians.  We are to go and do as the Samaritan did – show mercy.  That is how we become neighbors and fulfill the Gospel commandments.

Others, who we think should be the ones helping the victims of this crisis, Muslims for example, might walk around or away from the problem.   That doesn’t justify our doing the same.   We are Christians, and thus are taught by our Lord to be Good Samaritans.   This is the Gospel commandment for us.  We prove our faithfulness to Christ by living according to His teachings and commandments, not by comparing ourselves to Muslims or by taking actions that serve only to protect ourselves.

Christ told this parable exactly because Jews and Samaritans were enemies.  Yet the Samaritan is the lesson’s moral hero.  He is the hero because He does what is expected of any righteous person.   The recognized religious leaders in the parable fail to do what we know was expected of them.  Jesus wasn’t even teaching something new to the lawyer.  He was simply illuminating what the Law said.  The Good Samaritan follows Torah, even though he is not a Jew.  Christ shows what St. Paul later would teach – “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2;28-29).

Jesus tells this parable to remind one man that it was in his power to be a neighbor to others.   He claimed to be willing to love neighbor, but then wanted to screen out those he didn’t want to be his neighbor.  Christ catches him by surprise, for Jesus tells him that loving the neighbor does not begin in determining who the neighbor is bur rather begins with what is in our own hearts.

Being the Good Samaritan

The Gospel lesson found in Luke 10:25-37 of Good Samaritan is a well known parable of Jesus. Jesus confronts the attitude that turns the Law (Torah) into legalistic rationalizations.   In the parable, Jesus turns the question he is asked, “Who is my neighbor?”, on its head, saying the real question is how can I be a neighbor to everyone I see?   Christ, whom the Orthodox would understand as the One whom Moses encounters when he receives the Law from God on Mount Sinai, reasserts Himself into Torah in this Gospel lesson saying it is the meaning of the Law which is important, not just having Torah as a set of rules which one keeps best by narrowly, legalistically and Pharisaically defining or measuring terms.  And Christ intends the Law to be one of love.  The emphasis in keeping Torah is love: for God and for neighbor.  Those who turn Torah into the means for parsing, measuring and legally defining, miss the weightier matter of the law which is love, not straining gnats.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The right question is not who is my neighbor but to whom can I show mercy?  The answer, based in the love commanded by God in Torah, is each person one comes across in life.   So we read in the desert fathers the nature of true monasticism which is love for neighbor.  This is an asceticism we all can practice during the Nativity Fast as well as throughout life.

“The Fathers relate many anecdotes about Abba Agathon and the great love which he harbored in his heart for his fellow man. He once went down into the city to sell his baskets and happened upon an unfortunate man at the side of the road, ill and abandoned, whom, until that moment, not a single passer-by had deigned to help. The holy man got him up, attended to him, and, with the money from his baskets, rented a room and took him in. It is said that he remained there for some time with him and cared for him, while at the same time working to meet their expenses. Later, when the stranger became wholly well and was in good enough condition to return to his own country, Abba Agathon then returned to his beloved silence.” (Archimandrite Chyrsostomos, The Ancient Desert Fathers, p 30)

Christ, the Good Samaritan