Loving "difficult" people

Luke 10: 25 - 37

Today’s gospel covers a moral principle that is so fundamental, something we have all heard so many times. In theory we all agree that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.   You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn't agree with the Golden Rule, to treat other people as you would like to be treated, it’s something we all learn in Kindergarten.  In today’s Gospel we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is such a beautiful and meaningful passage. Because we have heard it so often, we can listen without giving it a second thought.  We have no problem agreeing with the message.  Of course we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course our neighbor is everyone, there are no exceptions.  We get it, we need to love everyone and treat everyone as we would like them to treat us. When we hear the story we might even judge the priest and Levite harshly.  How could they possibly pass the man by who is in such great need?  I guess they both need to go back to kindergarten.  In theory we all agree that we should love our neighbor as ourselves and treat others as we would like to be treated.

In practice, however, it is not easy to love our neighbor.  In our daily lives we often encounter people who we simply cannot treat as we would like them to treat us.  Take a moment to picture in your mind some person, or perhaps people that you just have a hard time getting along with. Think of someone who upsets you, someone you find it difficult to be around, someone who you would never go out of your way to help.  Perhaps you were thinking of your boss at work who is rude and overly demanding.  Maybe you pictured someone who lives close by that you find annoying, someone who when you see them coming down the street you want to go inside your house and hide because you do not want to get into a conversation with them.  Or did you think of a member of your extended family who always gets on your nerves because they never pull their weight, they are just a little lazy? I suspect that we all were able to think of someone.  Two things are important to realize: 1) Like the man who fell victim to robbers, that person is in need of something. Perhaps it is something as simple as a kind greeting or someone to listen to them. 2) According to Jesus, that person is your neighbor, someone you should love as yourself.  The truth is that we all behave like the priest and Levite in the gospel, we often pass people by who are in need of our help, love and support.
We tend to make excuses that allow us to pass by our neighbor who is in need. Often we come up with reasons that justify our indifference toward people we come in contact with who are in help. The priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan did the same. The priest needed to remain ritually pure in order to do his job. If the man were a non-Jew or already dead, touching him would mean that he would become impure. Surely this should excuse him from helping the man. Levites were often assistants to the priests. Some commentators suggest that the Levite saw the priest pass by the man in need so   the Levite was able to excuse himself from helping the man, thinking “if even the priest is not helping him, I need not”. Like the priest and Levite we too make excuses for passing by those in need of love and help. We excuse ourselves from greeting a rude co-worker by telling ourselves that they are always unkind and abrasive to us. Why should we be nice to them? We make it too easy to pass by a beggar on the street by telling ourselves that they are probably faking or that they will just spend the money on booze. Further from home, we excuse ourselves from thinking too much about those in the developing world because they are so far away, nothing we could do could ever make a difference. We tend to come up with excuses that justify our indifference towards people who are in need of our attention.

The first step in loving our neighbor as ourselves is repenting of our hardness of heart, the indifference, we have towards some people. In order to really treat other as we would like them to treat us we must start by repenting for all the times that we have made excuses that have allowed us to think that some people were not really our neighbor and ignore their needs. Recently Pope Francis visited Lampedusa, a small Italian island far south of Sicily, close to the African continent.  Lampedusa is famous because tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Africa land there as they try to enter Europe.  Thousands of Africans have lost their lives making the journey to Italy from Africa.  Pope Francis spoke about how we have become blind to the plight of these refugees.  Our behavior towards them has been like that of the priest and the Levite in the parable. Pope Francis begged God for the grace to no longer be indifferent, to see again these refugees as our neighbors.  Interestingly the Pope did not come proposing some political solution to the problem.  He is telling us that the first step in loving others as we love ourselves is to stop being indifferent to those who suffer. The Pope wanted to show those refugees who suffer, our neighbors, that we see their sufferings and that we want to stand by them.  He went to make a “gesture of closeness”.  What the Pope has done is an example for us all.  Repenting of our indifference is the first step in loving others as we love ourselves.

During our life we won’t be able to help every person in need who we come in contact with. We cannot solve everyone’s problems, but we need to ensure that our hearts do not become closed to those who suffer.  We need to be careful that we are not making excuses that allow us to be indifferent towards some people, that we can pass them by without noticing their suffering.  This is the first step in following the commandment to love others as you love yourself.  Let’s return to that question I asked earlier, “think of someone who upsets you, someone you find it difficult to be around, someone who you would never go out of your way to help”.  Maybe it was your boss or relative. Today let us ask God for the grace to see that person as your neighbor who is in need of your attention. Let us try to stop making excuses that allow us to pass by this person. Ask God to remove your indifference.