Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on Loving our Neighbor

Arabic original here.

Man, More Glorious than Churches and Mosques

The Apostle Paul commanded the people of Rome, the greatest city of that bygone time, to devote themselves to "extending hospitality to strangers." By this he meant hospitality for the poor, who found themselves thrown into the streets of a city that looked down on them and rejected them with its haughtiness as cold as marble.

When addressing the people of the great city of Rome, Paul stresses that the essence of the entire Law lies in realizing the commandment to "love your neighbor". He reminds them that "The commandments are all summed up in this saying, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (cf. Romans 13:8-10).

But who is the neighbor who must be loved? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ emphasizes that one's being a neighbor is not based on familial, ethnic or sectarian affiliations or on any other form of prejudice. Rather, it arises from specific circumstances, when one encounters someone in need of a helping hand. Being a neighbor, then, is not a matter of flesh and blood. It is a process of becoming based on mercy. Every passer-by, every displaced person, every refugee, every vulnerable person on earth becomes our neighbor.

It is not for us to "please ourselves", says Paul to the people of the great city of Rome, but rather "for each of us to please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification." Our pleasing God remains meaningless and of no avail if we have not pleased our neighbor, especially the foreigner who "has fallen into the hands of bandits"-- indeed, into the hands of tyrants, murderers and thugs. Prayer, fasting and every form of worship becomes useless if its purpose is not serving man and embracing him in crises of hardship and distress. 

It is also possible for us to say that man is the place where God prefers to be worshiped. The man in whom God dwells is more glorious than temples, churches and mosques. To serve God is to serve man, in whom God breathed from His Spirit and so, "The Spirit of God dwells within you." Thus man becomes the qibla and the mihrab. Pilgrimage to him becomes like pilgrimage to the holy places, to Christ's sepulchre. God does not dwell in stacked stones and no roof covers His head. He prefers to dwell in warm hearts. "Give me your heart and that is enough."

The Christian tradition holds that "the Good Samaritan is none other than Christ Himself." Christ is the perfect neighbor who saves the world from the grip of the Evil One. Thus Origen of Alexandria (d. 235), following the Apostle Paul, who said "emulate me as I emulate Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:16), calls us to emulate the good Samaritan "who is an image of Christ." He says, "We can imitate Christ and have mercy on those who fall into the hands of robbers, go to them, dress their wounds, anoint them with oil and wine, carry them on our donkeys, and lift their burdens from them." Emulating Christ means being committed to others, regardless of their identity.

We are called, then, to take upon ourselves the cares of contemporary man, his troubles, his wounds and his many problems. We are called to see his destitution and his oppression, and especially the cares of people in crises of war and displacement. We must be committed to care for them and aid them until the end of this evil crisis. Our loving God absolutely requires us to constantly strive to fulfill the sole commandment that He gave us to follow: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Our loving God requires that we first love man, every man.

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