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‘Hey, Mr! you’re supposed to help people.’


02 September 2007 11:00 | FR CRISPIN HARRISON CR

I’ve sometimes had that shouted after me when I’ve walked past a beggar in the street without giving to him.

Of course he’s quite right. The gospel story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10.25-37) teaches us that we are to help someone in need. But I tell myself that the beggar would probably want money for drink or drugs and as I am a monk I don’t have much money to give away. All the same I feel a twinge of guilt.

Jesus reaffirmed the Old Testament commandment that we are to love our neighbour. The lawyer’s question asks who counts as a neighbour. What are the boundaries? Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to answer that question.

It’s a question which still arises today. People say that charity begins at home and that’s quite right. St Paul wrote, “As we have opportunity let us do good to all people and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6.10) that is to our fellow Christians.

Many question whether refugees, foreigners, people from other EU countries should get the same public help and rights as people born in Britain.

In St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy”.(Mt 5.43) That is putting it very strongly. But certainly in Jesus time people thought that the requirement to love one’s neighbour meant only fellow Jews. In the story of the Good Samaritan it was particularly shocking that the priest and the Levite who ought to have observed the law abandoned a fellow Jew lying naked and beaten up. The Samaritan, whom Jews regarded as an enemy and false believer, helped the Jew and took great trouble to see that the innkeeper would take care of him. He receives from the Lord the blessing promised to the compassionate in the beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, mercy shall be shown to them.” (Mt 5.7).

Jesus says, “I say unto you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Mt 5.44-45)

Jesus is not concerned to provide ethical rules to show how the command to love our neighbours is to be applied. Love is to be shown in action wherever we encounter need.

Yet there are difficulties. Our financial resources are limited. However much we might want to help we can’t respond to every need. We can support agencies, such as Christian Aid and Amnesty, to meet some needs too great for one person alone.

Secondly our emotional resources are limited. There is a limit to how much we can get involved with caring for the needy without becoming overcome by physical or mental exhaustion.

Let’s be practical and think about particular cases.

Not everyone in need is in such a desperate case as the Jew who had been mugged on that dangerous road through the Judean desert. Some people we meet and know may just need a smile to help them on their way. We should acknowledge our neighbours.

On Television, radio and in the media we see and read about many people who are desperately in need. We ought to show concern and one way to do this is to pray for them at the time we see or read about them. We can hold before God in prayer those in a critical condition for whom we feel a special concern and we can pray for them very often whenever they come to mind.

Traditionally Christians include in their last will and testament legacies to various charities which they want to support. I commend that practice to you.

Circumstances today are very different from the time of Jesus. Nowadays the media shows us thousands who are starving or in need of shelter or medical help. But though we are aware of huge needs the resources to meet them are equally vast. What is sometimes lacking is the will to help.

In the Gospel story of the six works of love Jesus gives Christians a very special motive for loving our neighbour. He said “Inasmuch as you showed compassion to these the least of my brethren you did it to me.” (Mt 25. 40)

What Jesus said is remarkable and amazing. He identifies himself with the needy. When you show love, compassion, when you help your neighbour in need you are in fact showing love, helping Jesus himself.
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