Interfaith initiatives produce understanding, tolerance
Among my favourite texts from the New Testament is that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is among the most famous and beloved of Jesus’ parables.
The generally accepted view is that it is about being charitable to those in need. But is there more to it than that?
At a certain point in the story a lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus does not answer the question with a command or law. He uses the opportunity to probe the character and challenge the mindset of the questioner. Jesus does so by cleverly presenting to the lawyer an alternate consideration, one outside the comfortable and familiar harbour of legalism, namely who is it that the lawyer is prepared to be a neighbour toward?
In this parable Jesus provocatively presents a Samaritan as the model of one who is willing to be a neighbour. The lawyer would have viewed that as being unthinkable. Samaritans, you see, were regarded as not possessing that quality of character.
There is more to this parable. Much more.
The Samaritan is actually presented by Jesus to the lawyer as not just doing good but being good. The parable now becomes very disconcerting for the lawyer. The Samaritan’s good deed was not just an aberration, as if something done out of character. Rather, it was his innate goodness that enabled the act.
This recognition of goodness in one considered not to possess it was precisely the challenge Jesus presented to the lawyer who had been conditioned by his faith, culture and societal norms to believe as being unattainable for a Samaritan.
Fast-forward 2,000 years. Who are each of us prepared to be a neighbour toward? Who are we willing to engage through personal involvement? The Muslim family living next door? The gay couple who just moved in down the street? The inmate released from prison and now living in a halfway house nearby? The homeless person wandering down the avenue? The atheist calling religion archaic and its followers delusional?
If you are of my generation or older you probably remember the wariness that once existed between Catholics and Protestants. At times relations were quite unneighbourly. And when it came to non-Christians, well few of us even had Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu neighbours and friends. As for atheists and agnostics, well they were a confrontational bunch best avoided altogether.
Today the ecumenical and interfaith initiatives among and within faith traditions is producing greater understanding and tolerance. Interfaith gatherings are becoming more common. Ecumenical dialogue has enabled various Christian traditions to reach agreement on a range of issues that once divided.
We now seek common ground and collaboration. The Catholic Church globally, as here in the Diocese of Antigonish, initiates, supports and participates in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. We choose today to tear down walls, build bridges and open doors.
One final point: Notice that the story is called the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’ and not the ‘Parable of the Samaritan Who Did a Good Deed.’ Are we willing to accept that about others, that they are inherently good? And are we prepared to acknowledge, therefore, that the Kingdom of God is open to them?
Robert. F. Coleman is a permanent deacon with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish. Ordained in 2011 he is currently assigned to St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish, serves as chaplain at the Cape Breton Correctional Centre and is a community representative with Island Community Justice Society. Coleman lives in Sydney with his wife and daughter and works full time as a career development practitioner.