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Father Sund: Taking personal responsibility for our neighbors

In the July 14 Gospel, we hear the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. In the background of this Gospel was the Jews’ hatred of Samaritans, a hatred that had existed for several hundred years before Jesus came.

The Samaritans were the people who stayed behind when the Jewish people went into exile. They chose to intermarry with Gentiles and did not worship with the Jews in the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus pushes the scholar of the law to see that this man is his neighbor, whom he is called to love, a very revolutionary teaching in itself. 

I want to focus on one element of the Good Samaritan’s actions. He takes personal responsibility for the care of his neighbor. He binds his wounds, and he carries him to an inn. He even instructs the innkeeper that if there is any additional cost, that burden will fall on him.

This tells us that the call for charity falls on us individually. As the Lord tells us, the judgment of these actions will fall on us as individuals. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

The call for charity and care for our neighbor does not have any conditions placed on it. Jesus does not tell us that we must only care for those who entirely keep the commandments. By his own actions he portrays to us quite the contrary.

In today’s culture, this responsibility calls for us to care for all people. The immigrant, regardless of legal status, is our neighbor. Our own family members, regardless of how they treated us or our parents, call for our care. The homeless man or woman, even if they aren’t following the proper city ordinances on panhandling, is our neighbor. We are called to encounter them, not just to throw money at them, but to individually encounter them.

One of the common criticisms heard of St. Teresa of Calcutta is that she did not set up large systems to try to cure the illnesses that people had. This criticism, however, misses the point of her mission: to encounter Jesus Christ in the poor. It is good that we have organizations and government programs to meet these basic needs. However, when we reach our final judgment, I am certain that our Lord won’t give us a pass because we had money for Medicare taken out of our paychecks each month.

So here is the challenge. In the next week, give someone the basic human interaction to care for their needs. This could be someone close, such as a co-worker, or the homeless on the streets of Omaha. The best measure might be to ask the question: “Who gets on my nerves the most?” Let that person be your neighbor.

Father Joseph Sund is associate pastor at St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill, St. Joseph Mission in Amelia, Sacred Heart Parish in Boyd County, St. Boniface Parish in Stuart and St. Joseph Parish in Atkinson.