There was a scholar who stood up to test Jesus and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” – Luke 10:25-29
In my experience of teaching stewardship and raising capital in the Church, I have had the frequent privilege of designing campaigns for Catholic dioceses or religious orders. When I am engaged in these projects, there is always someone in the group of church pastors and leaders who raises the question, “Why should our group [church] participate?” And not to blame church folks alone, in a comparable way the same question is often asked by benefactors and donors when approached to support the causes to which they belong: “Why should I participate?” The bottom line: “What’s in it for me?”
A variation of this question was once presented to Jesus. In fact, the question was considered of such importance that it is recorded in several places in the Gospels. I like the version found in Luke 10. A scholar approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked in return, “How do you read the Law?” In this telling of the encounter, the scholar of Scripture responded, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus responded, “You have answered correctly, do this and you will live.”
Now If human nature was what it should be, I believe that the discussion could have stopped there. But it didn’t. As the Gospel points out, the man then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” in order to justify himself.
Just as in this Gospel account, it’s often hard to see past our own area of responsibilities, our own little world. “Who is my neighbor?” is often asked because the individual does not connect the need of another to their own responsibility to respond. Their heartfelt question may be rephrased as: “How does this need affect me?”; “Just how is this of consequence to me?”; or simply, “Why should I participate?” But in whatever form it appears, when the question of responsibility arises, it’s a good question that deserves an answer in every single campaign.
Jesus used this occasion to answer it this way: he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story, the main character who “saves the day” was a Samaritan — an outcast who dwelt on the outskirts of what would have been considered proper society. Yet it was this outcast, this Samaritan, who stopped along the way and cared for the robbers’ victim as though he were his next-door neighbor. At the end of the Gospel story, the scholar realizes that the only man who treated another as his neighbor was the man who provided aid, even though this person was an outcast himself.
Why do faith communities exist today? And what should our individual responsibility be? I believe there is a key truth we must emphasize: faith communities exist to show love to our neighbors – whoever they might be.
I once heard a great churchman tell his audience, “Any parish that only meets the needs within its own four walls is little better than a social club.” I heard another churchman put his response more positively, “It would be a shame if at the end of this campaign you (or your parish) was the only one that did not take part in this wonderful work of God.” Both leaders were saying the same thing: our responsibility extends beyond our comfort zone – we are called to give, even to those who might not fit our conceptions of “deserving.” As stewards of the gifts of God, we must always remember that the heart of God’s law is to love him, AND to love our neighbor – whomever that might be!