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May 14h, 2020

Who is Our Neighbor?

T.M. Lawrence

The scale of human suffering and death the Covid 19 pandemic has inflicted upon our nation has conspicuously heightened our moral sensibility and disposition.  The question of “who is our neighbor?”  has acquired serious moral relevance in our lives.  As we actively and subliminally seek to carve out our individual roles and responses, it is incumbent that we look more closely for guidance to St. Matthew’s gospel’s incarnation of the universal neighbor among us.  The final one-third of Chapter 25 (i.e. v25-31) is devoted to fleshing out or identifying, the persona of the neighbor we seek to be, and to find in others.
The difference between St. Luke’s idealized neighbor, “the Good Samaritan”, and Matthew’s is explicit and strikingly accessible.  The common and unifying characteristic of his (Matthew’s) incarnation of the neighbors among us is Empathy.   The striking characteristic of this quality is unambiguous: its ultimate reward of a place in Paradise for our souls.
Our familiarity with the poets’ assertion that “…every man’s death diminishes me….” remains one of the greatest catalysts in humanity’s trouble to overcome our inertia and fulfill our call to action.  
The common characteristic that we see in Matthew’s “neighbor” is the property of empathy- a striking contrast to the antipathy that characterizes the American persona i.e. our Rugged Individualism. Additionally if Dunn’s assertion that “every man’s death diminishes me” is true then the effect of COVID 19 on the body of this nation is to amputate its legs.  We are forced, in effect, to bow down and find our way.
If the COVID 19 pandemic has done anything more, it is to the interior life of our fellow men.  What it has done in effect is precisely that of inducing empathy within each of us- within one another.  In this sense, through Matthew’s gospel we have both identified our neighbors and have ourselves become a neighbor.


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