Sunday, 14 July 2013

Who is My Neighbour?

Today, when we are living in most testing times, when tempers are on a short fuse and intolerance has reached new heights, it has become increasingly important to learn to respect one another. We live in high-rises and apartments with neighbours literally round the corner, breathing down our necks because of the fact that space is a premium. Ironically, the neighbour next door continues to be a stranger to us because of the fact that he wants to protect his space, and you don’t want to intrude into his! Strange, you come to know that the neighbour living next door was very important person, a scientist, a senior Government Policy-Maker!
How then, when you are incapable of forming a good relationship with your neighbours at home can you expect members of other communities to respect yours? We are living in times when in spite of the fruits of internet we are drifting apart from each other, we have  started creating distinctions on the bases of religion, caste, gender and even economic status.. We have today started compartmentalising ourselves more and more, retreating into niches we have created for ourselves. In times when intolerance and communal hatred have begun to erode the basis of our very existence, the fact that we are humans, it has become increasingly important to understand that it is only man who has built barriers and distinctions that separate us from our neighbours.
This then leads us to the question, who then is our neighbour? Could he be someone from our religious community? Someone, perhaps from our language community? The Parable of the Good Samaritan suggests that the ideal neighbour may not necessarily be found from within our own religious or social community. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the wounded man could not find a single sympathiser from his own community. It was in fact somebody who belonged to another religion who came and applied salve to his wounds, and took him with him for further medical treatment. In the Book of Job in the Bible, 29.1,7-16, Job talks of the respect in which he was held because of his concern for those in need- “ I delivered the poor who cried, and the fatherless who had none to help him. The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me;and I caused the widow’s heart to ring for joy…I was a father to the poor”. This, then is what good neighbours are made, and they have the same compassion for people of other communities according to the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
According to the Book of James (2.14-18,26) in the Bible, faith which doesn’t issue in loving acts is dead! ‘But someone will say, “ you have faith and I have work. Show me your faith apart from your works and by my works will show you my faith. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.”’ It is clear that your neighbour is not just the one living next door, your neighbour is not just a member of your community, he is not just a follower of your religious beliefs, rather he or she is anyone and everyone! It could the the old lady who needs help in crossing the street, it could be someone who is collapsed in the heat and needs a sip of water. And it is clear that strong faith in one’s religious beliefs without the corresponding actions ( “work”) is hollow in nature, for, according to the Book of James, 2.14-18,26, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”!  No one who claims to have a strong faith in whatever religion he follows can ignore a fellow human who is in need and this doesn’t have to be someone from the same community.
Increasing hatred between people of different religions, communal strife, terrorism, religious intolerance, and fundamentalism are all the result of not recognising our neighbour as a fellow human being who has been created by the same God, who follows a different path but which ultimately leads to the same creator! The second commandment for all Christians clearly mentions that you should love your neighbour. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells you that your neighbour need not be from the same faith, and the book of James tells us that faith should also be supported by actions or “works”. In the same way, Job tells us about the respect he was accorded  because of his concern for those in need. Your neighbour is a human being who is need of your help, and you will be respected if you fulfil your duty towards humanity! The Commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is  a panacea for all the problems we are facing today in the form of extremism, religious intolerance, and communal strife. Although, I guess at a more immediate level it is about respecting one another at our places of work, on the street, at the market, in the neighbourhood, on the train, the bus, or for that effect anyone who needs your help!
This is what I was able to glean from today’s Sermon on eighth Sunday after Pentecost as delivered by Revd. Sunil Ghazan at the Church of the Epiphany, Gurgaon. The theme for the sermon was, “Who is my neighbour”.
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