In his account of this parable Luke begins with a question. The man who questions Jesus is a nomikos, not a lawyer as we might understand that, but an expert in God’s law or more specifically the religious law of Israel (i.e. the Torah).
The question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” avoids prioritizing a list of deeds rather than the whole Torah which discloses God’s will. Hence the man’s response to Jesus’ counterquestion, “What is in the Law? How do you read it?” is to splice together the love of God and the love of neighbour.
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But the further question, “who is my neighbour?” focuses on interpretation of the Torah. So, the narrative of the parable begins. The incident of the good Samaritan is appropriate to the commemoration of all those who suffered in the Holodomor. Last October Patriarch Sviatoslav with his synod of bishops published his pastoral letter, “Only One Thing Will Remain Yours – That Which You Have Given to the Poor,” words of Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky. The pastoral letter itself refers to the example of the Samaritan thus:
In order that we may not turn away our hearts to a brother and sister, who suffers in our midst, following the example of the merciful Samaritan, we wish to pause before human misfortune and lean down towards it in a gesture of merciful and compassionate love, which our Lord pours into our souls by his Spirit.
In this tale of treachery, it is compassionate love which wins the day. The crucial thing about love of neighbour is not the identity of the neighbour, but one’s own identity. We are instructed to be the kind of person who helps any needy human being that you are able to help.
The Holodomor turns our attention to the many manifestations or faces of poverty present in the current world. Today almost a billion people live in dire povety having for their daily life and sustenance less than 2 US dollars. The situation in Ukraine is desperate. Eight out of ten pensionesr live below the poverty line. Salaries are inadequate to meet the needs of life. As someone once noted, “a rich country of poor people.” Allow me to quote one extract from the pastoral letter:
The memory of the horrors of the Holodomors are fixed in our national consciousness forever. However, this memory places on us a responsibility, not only before the dead, but also before our contemporaries, who today before the eyes of the entire world are doomed to torments and suffering similar to those experienced by our brothers and sisters nearly a century ago. Possibly our nation, having undergone such horrible ordeals, has a special mission from God, and a task to awaken the conscience of humanity and individuals, that they might take note of the despicable phenomenon of hunger in the world, and do everything to eliminate these sufferings of our weak and unprotected brothers and sisters, becoming their voice and stretching forth to them a helping hand of solidarity. And just as the longsuffering Jewish people, having lived through the horror of the Holocaust, became a bulwark for a sinful humanity against the repetition of similar crimes, so also our people, having had the experience of annihilation by hunger, should serve in the world as a voice of conscience, that calls for the salvation of the undernourished and hungry, and advocates for effective action towards eliminating the affliction of hunger from the face of the earth. This must become the consolidated and persistent action of us all—the state, the citizenry, the Churches, of each and every Ukrainian, for whom our history, the fate of our country and the memory of those who died are sacred. And this would be our best memorial tribute to the millions of victims of the Holodomors, and our active contribution towards the transfiguration of contemporary humanity: “Remembering the Holodomor—we save from hunger today!”
Pope Francis calls the whole Church to “speak through the testimony of poverty.” He explains what this should mean in practice. “If a believer speaks about poverty and leads the life of a pharaoh – that will not do.”
Patriarch Sviatoslav has announced:
Taking into account the critical state of food and material provisions for numerically significant strata of the population in Ukraine and in other parts of the world as a result of and aggravated by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, this year we propose —- on the occasion of the World Day of the Poor to begin a concrete initiative of mercy – a charitable drive “Feed the Poor One!”
This drive will henceforward be active in our parishes on a permanent basis. Therefore, our Church in Ukraine and abroad must learn to reach beyond the confines of parish, denominational and ethnic enclosures.
For the love of Christ, let us do so. We have received this commission from Christ in the parable: “You go and do likewise.”