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Who is my neighbour, really?

Anthony Aduaka unpacks what might be entailed in a tweet that Pope Francis sent in response to a question posed on Twitter by one of his nearly 100 million followers.

What lasts, what has value in life and what treasures don’t disappear? This was the question posed to Pope Francis on his twitter handle last week. Surprisingly, the Pope responded, “definitely two: God and our neighbour.”

I didn’t spend much time contemplating the eternity of God as it seemed to me a somewhat heady and philosophical discussion best left to our metaphysical speculations.

But, who then is my neighbour? Many authors have tried to respond to this question from a range of different perspectives: social, economic, ethical and spiritual to name some. It is also true that the internet and our libraries are filled with articles by renowned members of our society. Nonetheless, each time one hears this question, it calls forth many different responses and reactions.  In the end, the question still persists in our consciousness and we tend to wonder still, who really is my neighbour?

In the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Bible paints an ideal form of relationship between persons who find themselves in a common environment, as we sometimes do on a bus going to work, on the streets as we take an evening stroll or even when watching the people on our television screens.

These environments of encounter between two people lead us to reflect upon the reality of the humanity that we all share at that very moment.  What notion of neighbour do we have of the many people we call friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WeChat and of others we meet in various situations and circumstances throughout our lives?

Looking at our world today, can we say that God’s friendship and genuine neighbourliness have become part of our individual struggle towards humanness? Every day we encounter the many faces of those marginalised, displaced and deprived of basic human necessities. Yet we are still more interested and seem to care more about news of the richest person in the world, the latest technologies and celebrity gossip than we are in hearing and telling the stories of the poorest and the side-lined in our societies. We develop so many theories and advocate so many ideologies, but still, wars and strife ravage our world. The internet claims to create a globalised world, yet high walls and electric fences measure the distance between people. Would it not be worth our while to stop and recognise that the homeless man on the street, the hungry child on the television screen or the woman selling vegetables in the rain are all part of our common humanity?

All around the world we hear of nations perpetually subjugating other nations in the name of foreign policy and national security. Talks about nuclear warheads and out of space exploration mark our headlines because we feel threatened by our own existence. We experience the extermination of others without raising an eyebrow: the people affected by the war in Syria, religious conflicts in the DRC, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the migrants from Libya crossing the Mediterranean. The plight of these people becomes one of breaking news eliciting emotions that die the very instant they arise because these people do not fit into the trending capitalistic dream for a better and profitable world. Hence, their lives and their deaths simply do not matter. We hold talk shows, conferences and summits over the issues surrounding gun violence, yet no one dares to question the multi-billion dollar companies that provide the guns because there is a career to save, a business deal or a donor’s intention to honour. We challenge ourselves only up to the margins of our personal comfort and the fear of disagreeing with the popular opinion. For how long should we continue to neglect the incorrigible reality of what our world is becoming? For how long should we continue to preach Godliness and neighbourliness from the pulpits of our churches, synagogues, and mosques, yet nothing seems to change substantially.

It seems therefore, that the Pope’s response invites all of us to do our best because this is the place we all call home. And that makes all of us sharers and partakers of this common humanity.

Having decided not to venture into God’s eternity, I find myself backtracking… It is this notion of commonality that actually makes the idea of God everlasting and that ought to sustain the neighbourliness that we are called to show to our neighbour. One might not be able to provide solutions to the challenges that have taken humanity centuries to create, the destruction of planet earth in which we have invested countless resources to destroy. We should not continue to measure our success and failures only on the basis of profit and loss.

The authentic notion of the neighbour is one that invites us to consider not just the benefits of our efforts but the joy of our humanity. Let us therefore, learn to be genuine humans in the right way not because there is an eternal metaphysical God but because God is in our neighbour. In every situation of encounter between people, be it in person or on our television screens, it is our neighbour that we encounter.

Let us move beyond giving our possessions to giving ourselves since God and neighbour are beyond what we can ever possess.

Images: Anthony Aduaka SJ

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.