By Francis Fernandez-Carvajal
You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The doctor of the Law gave the right answer. Jesus confirms it: You have answered right; do this, and you will live. The story is told in the Gospel of today’s Mass.
This precept already existed in the Jewish Law, which even specified it in practical details. We read for example in Leviticus: When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. And after specifying other expressions of mercy, Scripture continues: You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.
Here we have a distant foreshadowing of what was to be Our Lord’s new commandment. But among the Jews there was a certain vagueness about the word ‘neighbour’: it wasn’t clear whether it included only the members of one’s own clan, or one’s friends, or the entire chosen people. Opinions varied on the subject, and that was why the doctor of the Law asked Our Lord, Who is my neighbour? To whom should I show all this love and mercy?
Jesus answers with a very beautiful parable, which we find in the Gospel of Saint Luke: 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. This is my neighbour: he is a man, any man whoever who has need of me. Our Lord makes no specific reference to race, friendship or blood connections. Our neighbour is anyone who is close to us and has need of help. Nothing is said of his country, or of his background or social condition: homo quidam, just a man, a human being.
As we go through life we come across many cases of people who have been similarly injured and left destitute and half-dead in body and soul. Our concern to help them, which springs from our closeness to Jesus, broadens our heart and prevents us from falling into narrow-mindedness and selfishness. One discovers people who have been hurt by misunderstanding and loneliness, or by the absence of the most basic human necessities; people humiliated in their dignity as persons; people who have been shamefully robbed of their most elementary rights in ways which cry to heaven for vengeance. Christian men and women can never pass by on the other side, as some of the individuals in the parable did.
Every day we also meet the man who was left half dead, either because he has not been taught the elementary truths of the Faith, or because they have been stolen from him by the effects of others’ bad example, or by media-conditioning. We can never forget that the Faith is the greatest treasure man has, much more important than all material and human values. At times, before preaching the Faith, we may first have to approach the man lying at the roadside and tend to his injuries. But as Christians we can never overlook the need to spread the Faith and to help people understand it better, and to propagate the Christian meaning of life. At the same time, we try to provide other good things as well – education, culture, personal betterment, an appreciation of the value of work, honesty in personal relationships, and a desire for social justice. All these things are living expressions of what charity really means in practice.
A Christian cannot be uninvolved in the human and social progress of mankind, but the over-riding concern to enlighten men’s minds in regard to faith and the religious life cannot ever be relegated to second place.
 cf Luke 10:27
 Lev 19:9-10
 Lev 19:18
 Luke 10:25-37
 Cardinal M. González Martín, Free, in Charity, p.58
 ibid, p.59