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Neighbours can be a handful

Neighbours can be messy people to deal with. The late Fr Ted Kennedy made himself neighbour to hundreds of indigenous people who "had been left to die by the roadside". The model Good Samaritan, he knew only one law: love.

by Ted Mason

An embarrassed lawyer, trying to regain some face from an earlier theological discussion with Jesus of Nazareth, has posed the question: "Who is my neighbour?" As the young Teacher from Galilee prepares to answer with a parable, the crowd sense they are in for a treat. "A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho", Jesus begins.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is dangerous, and the crowd knows this. Robberies and bashings are common, only the well armed, or those in groups, or religious officials, can travel the route with some degree of safety. As the story continues, the listeners follow closely, and whisper amongst themselves as they try to work out the climatic ending, ahead of the storyteller. Now do as this audience does, and put yourself into the sandals of the man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho

It happens - you are bashed, robbed and left naked by the side of the road, to die. You sense blood coming from several severe wounds, your body is a mass of pain, one eye is closed, your lips are swollen and your mouth of full of dust. Is this the end? But wait! You can hear footsteps coming along the road. Praise be to God, your good eye shows you a priest, no doubt on his way to Jerusalem. Now you will be okay.

The sound comes closer, the priest slows his pace, but suddenly speeds up again and he hurries by without a word. Devastation! But you're a good Jew. Of course the priest couldn't stop. He's probably going to Jerusalem for his month-long attendance at the Temple.

To assist you makes him unclean: he will lose his place on the roster as he observes the purification rites, and his yearly salary will be lost to him and his family. He was right not to stop.

The pain is constant, and the loss of blood is making you weaker. Maybe death will come soon. Then you hear the sound of another traveller; this time it's a Levite. Praise be to God. But he doesn't stop either. Then you realise he is in the same predicament as the earlier priest. To assist you renders him unclean, and the long purification rite will cost him his place on the Temple roster. Isn't there any one who can assist?

The sound of a donkey walking brings you back to consciousness. At last real help is on its way. Oh no! it's a despised Samaritan. This is the end for sure. He's coming over to put the boot in and complete the job left unfinished by the robbers. You stiffen involuntarily, in spite of the pain, as you wait for the final blow. It doesn't come. Instead you hear nothing but soothing words, and feel water trickling down your throat. Sweet smelling oil and wine are cleaning the dirt from your wounds, the worst cuts are being bandaged. Ever so gently you are carried to the donkey. The Samaritan says, "There's an inn down the road where you can be looked after: don't worry about the cost, I'll take care of it."

You are brought back to now, when you hear the Nazarean ask the Lawyer, "Which of the three was neighbour to him who fell among robbers?"

You can sense the word "Samaritan" sticking in the Lawyer's throat; he can't say it.

"The one who showed mercy to him, I suppose," he manages to utter. The lawyer's embarrassment is now complete as Jesus says, "Go and do the same."

As a member of the gathering, you're probably feeling a bit confused at this moment. Your initial thoughts are that maybe Jesus is a bit anti-clerical, and the rescuer would be a layman; one of us. But to interpose a Samaritan! This beggars belief. It goes against hundreds of years of cultural and religious hatred: it presents a picture of a world that you thought would be impossible to achieve. It also presents the sad picture of a law that says it is more important to be ritually clean, than to cross a boundary and save a man's life.

Neighbours can be messy people to deal with. The late Fr Ted Kennedy made himself neighbour to hundreds of indigenous people who" had been left to die by the roadside". He knew only one law : love. He lived out that law daily among the people of Redfern he served so faithfully all those years. He had no fear of boundaries.

We all know people "left by the roadside to die". Do we pass by because we're too busy? Do we cross to the other side of the street to avoid an encounter? Are we afraid of the messiness they bring with them? Perhaps we need the courage to challenge a law (civil or church) that keeps them down in the dust. Maybe we just don't care!

People "go down from Jerusalem to Jericho" every day, and everyday some fall by the roadside, victims of circumstances and the cruelty that life can inflict: immigrants, refugees, the less than able, the elderly, those who are hungry and lonely, the imprisoned.

Do we leave them to their fate as we hurry by, or do we bind up the wounds with our own oil and wine? Perhaps there is a boundary of fear near you that you could cross for a little while each week and befriend those on the other side. Love casts out fear.

(For a no-frills version of the above, read Luke 10:25-37)

Ted Mason is involved in pastoral ministry in the Central Tablelands of NSW.

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