The nearness of God: this is one of the most breathtaking claims of Biblical faith. How can God, Creator of heaven and earth, truly come near to us? Is it possible? What do we mean when we speak of the nearness of God?
And does this offer us any insight into our relationships with those around us? Can we draw near to people around us, in the way that God draws near to us?
Nearness of God
Today’s readings invite us into deep reflection on this idea of nearness. In Deuteronomy, Moses reveals to the people this remarkable truth: the Lord their God gives a command which is not “remote or mysterious,” nor far off “across the sea.” No, he insists, “it is something very near to you, already in your hearts and mouths.”
In the Gospel passage, we see a young scholar questioning Jesus about what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus questions him in turn, the scholar offers the double commandment exhorting us to both love of God and love of neighbor. Yet when the young man asks him, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then unfolds the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Who is My Neighbor?
Consider this honest question: Who is my neighbor? How do we define one’s neighbor? Drawn from the root word neigh-, or near, the neighbor is one who dwells near us.
As we listen carefully to the story of the Good Samaritan, however, we recognize that the Samaritan who helps the wounded man on the side of the road is not a neighbor in the traditional sense of the word, but in a far more profound sense; and it is this deeper meaning of being neighbor to another that Jesus calls us to discover.
Though the young man begins by asking the Lord, “Who is my neighbor,” as we delve into the parable, we realize that the answer given to us is actually the reverse: To whom am I called to be neighbor? Whom can I make my neighbor by daring to draw near to them, by taking time to care for them? In the story, we encounter the remarkable mercy of the Samaritan who, when he sees the man lying wounded on the other side of the road, does not simply pass by, but intentionally comes near. He interrupts his own journey to attend to this stranger, taking time to anoint and bind up the man’s wounds. Indeed, he knows nothing of this man; only, he has compassion on this man left to die, this person for whom there is no other.
Where does such mercy come from? How does one come to love the wounded stranger so generously, drawing near when no one else does? Quite simply, from the love God has for us. God has drawn near to us in our broken and wounded humanity, humbling Himself so that he might heal our deepest wounds, and so raise us to new life. St. John tells us in those luminous words of his Gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us;” he “pitched his tent” among us. God in His infinite mercy chose to come very near to us.
When we live out the commandment of loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, we are filled with his divine love; and that love of God overflows from us to others around us, urging us to draw near to them. Today, friends, let us resolve to draw near to the person in need. We have been loved by God who dared to draw near to us, to enter into our very humanity. So too may we allow that love to flow forth to those people in our lives most in need of it.
It’s interesting also that the parable is being told to scholars of the law, who would’ve seen the good Samaritan as someone who did not have God operating in his life. The scandal that one who was despised might be nearer to the wounded person then they who had been taught to love, must not have been missed on the hearers of that parable. Nor should it be missed on us today when we see someone who appears far from God loving others more than we. Thank you again for a wonderful reflection.
Amen. Great insight!
Yes, so true! It must have been jarring to hear that a Samaritan could be neighbor to a Jew…