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 neighbour 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 neighbour?"
Jesus was quoting when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:13), and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). But when the scribe asked the further question (a common one among them), “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus spoke from himself. Let’s hear what he said and how he said it.
Some Rabbis restricted the word ‘neighbour’ to fellow Jews; others gave a somewhat wider definition. But Jesus turned the question inside out. He did not answer the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but a different question, ‘Who should I be neighbour to?’ These two questions may seem more or less the same, but they are quite different. The first question is about other people and how they are to be classified; the second question is about myself and how I should behave towards others.
It is easier to deal with questions that only have to do with things (or people) ‘out there’. But many of the difficult things that challenge us are very much ‘in here’! Assuredly that is why we project things onto other people. I remember a teacher long ago who used to spend the whole day telling everyone they were stupid. The explosive way he pronounced it – ssteuuuupit! – made it sound much worse than stupid. Meeting him years later I saw he was not a clever person. What he was doing, all those years before, was projecting onto us the stupidity he couldn’t admit in himself, and condemning it.
It is a bit terrifying when it first strikes you clearly: what you see around you is what lies within you. “Two men look out through prison bars, / One sees mud and the other stars.” Two people grow up in the same family; one remembers the good things, the other remembers nothing but bad. Two people look at a third; one sees a decent person struggling, the other sees a write-off. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite pass an injured man and see only a problem to be avoided; the Samaritan (and to Jews at that time, Samaritans were heretics) saw the same man and saw his need of help. How you see and act depends on what is inside you. Jesus looks at you and says, “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13,14). He was able to say that because he himself was the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:5). He was willing to say it because he was filled with love.
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