Who is My Neighbour?

27 November 2020

By Canon Mike D Williams

Jesus answers this simple but profound question with the well-known parable about the Good Samaritan stopping to care for the stranger. In some of our services we are reminded of the two great commandments that Jesus summarised in the New Testament – to Love God and our neighbour as ourselves. Who is our neighbour is a question that needs to be answered by every generation as the context of our living in the world changes.

One major change today is the realisation that the world is warming due to the impact of human activity. The extent of the warming is damaging to nature and the way we live now.  A warming planet has an even greater impact on the poor and future generations. Who is my neighbour in the context of global warming?

Pope Francis published ‘Laudato Si’, an Encyclical Letter on the Care of our Common Home back in 2015. The title ‘Praise be to you, my Lord’ is taken from a canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi. The canticle reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life. The Pope suggests that ‘This sister now cries out to us because the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will… We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth… we breathe her air and receive life and refreshment from her waters.’

The Bible has many references to time. Consideration is given to both the final destiny of the human soul and of humanity in general. There will be no end to Christ’s kingdom (Lk 13.33), though there will be an end to this world order (Mat 24.6,14, Mk 13.7, Lk 21.9, 1 Cor 15.24). Many have predicted the end of the world. Dates predicted have come and gone. Science tells us that our human activity today is endangering the future. Parts of our planet will become increasingly uninhabitable. Do we have a responsibility for the impact we have on those who will live in the future? Who is my neighbour now and in the future?

Reflecting on the amazing speed, collective scientific endeavour and resources focused on finding a vaccine for Covid-19 shows that when it is us in danger at the present time, we can collectively find a solution. There is a political will to respond to the immediate threat. The moral question is now whether the rich countries are those first in line to access the vaccines? Or will we recognise that there is no way out of the pandemic until the vaccine has been deployed to those most in need globally. Who is my neighbour in a pandemic?

Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, in his last book before his death a few weeks ago, reflects on how as a society in the West we have moved from a culture of ‘we’ to ‘I’. We have lost the sense of joint moral enterprise and common values and purpose. We tend to love ourselves more than our neighbour. Our faith reminds us that there is hope. It is with God’s help that we can follow the commandments given to us by Jesus as we seek to answer anew the profound question – who is my neighbour?

The hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi:

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour; and bears a likeness of you, Most High.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful. Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste. Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong

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