By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
When I was reflecting on what to write for this column, I thought of the story of the Good Samaritan as narrated in the Gospel of Luke 10:25-37. But the term “missionary culture” kept popping into my head. I had no idea what a missionary culture would be in this context, and I haven’t heard or read about it before. But with further reflection and prayer I concluded that I could come to a new definition of the term “missionary culture” in light of the inspiration I was receiving. I wish to share with you the product of my reflection on what I understand “missionary culture” to mean in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story that Jesus told in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” This was a question asked by a Jew who wanted to justify himself, to be sure that he was fulfilling the Jewish law that required him to love his neighbor. But Jesus’ response – the story of the Good Samaritan – seems to redefine the concept of “neighbor” as understood by the Jews of his time. For them, a neighbor was one who belonged to their circle, their culture, and their religion. In other words, a neighbor was a fellow Jew which, of course, excluded the Samaritans. The story of the Good Samaritan, in contrast, shows two Jewish people who did not help a fellow Jew who was hurt and in danger of death. But an outsider, a Samaritan who was not considered a neighbor, reached out to help.
I now see the act of the Samaritan as an act of a missionary culture. I would define a missionary culture as a culture where we care for people whom we do not know, who are unrelated to us, who are outside our circle, with whom we may not have anything in common other than our humanity. A missionary culture extends love and restores joy and laughter in the lives of people we meet every day. A missionary culture breaks barriers that stereotypes create in our minds; it’s a culture that reaches out to all people, including strangers, without judging them. A missionary culture is exactly what Jesus presented to us when he narrated the story of the Good Samaritan. It was a missionary culture that made the Samaritan man go out of his way – despite the attitudes of the Jewish people toward the Samaritans and the Samaritans toward the Jewish people – to extend a helping hand to one who would have been described as a cultural enemy.
Jesus redefines for his listeners the concept of “neighbor” to include any human, since all are created by God. It shows that love for the other person is the driving force behind Jesus’s definition of a neighbor. I would describe the Samaritan’s act of love toward a stranger – supposedly a perceived enemy – as an example of a missionary culture, of reaching out to all people with one motivation – Love! Jesus broadens the stagnant culture of his people into a culture of outreach to all peoples, which is what our Christian faith teaches.
How missionary are we in our cultures today? We live in a world of culture and traditions. We are all products of some form or way of life that is passed to us, either through our parents or the environment we live or grow in. These ways of life in most cases influence the way we view life and the way we live it. In the scriptures we see how culture, traditions and religious practices influenced the behaviors of people. Some of these cultures and traditions positively impacted human development, while others promoted a distorted view of human existence and created an unjust perception of humanity. Christianity, through the love of Christ, has altered some of these cultures and traditions that sometimes create an unjust perception of others. But have we Christians, bearers of Jesus’s torch, freed ourselves from the prison of some of the unjust cultures and traditions that distort the way we view and define our neighbors today?
The question “Who is my neighbor?” is as relevant today as it was at the time of Jesus. The understanding of a neighbor today is still a serious cause of division among us; too often our perception of what defines a neighbor is based on ethnicity, religion, race and all the accidental features that define humanity. Jesus wants us to consider everyone as a neighbor despite our differences. But, unfortunately, our cultures, our environment and even our religions sometimes create conditions that further divide us. Sometimes these cultural, environmental and religious factors create unjust systems that turn humanity against itself, and we make enemies of people we don’t even know. We must identify those elements of unjust systems that divide us and reject them.
Let’s go heal our neighborhoods with a renewed Christ-centered missionary culture.
Father Jacob Dankasa is the pastoral administrator of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.