Love Thy Neighbor?

I recently wrote about Jesus and Politics and, since these are blog posts and not doctoral dissertations, I didn’t go into a lot of detail on examples of how people twist faith for political gain.  Honestly, you could write a book, and many have, on interpretations of scripture or misinterpretations of scripture.  I do, however, want to cover one topic that I believe gets twisted, and I may do a couple more of these in the future.  

In Matthew 22, Jesus famously says that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  For the most part, all of us are guilty of ignoring this commandment. We make plenty of excuses as to why this person doesn’t deserve it, or that group is unworthy of our love. Those on the one side tend to attempt to justify it, but they don’t really make excuses for it.  They are guilty of it, but they tend to be ashamed of it at the same time.  Those on the other side, combine this sin with another, pride, to take great pleasure in their hatred of certain people or groups.  The justification is that it’s good to hate those who hate (whether or not those people they target truly hate is another conversation for another day).  These people will then throw Jesus back in your face, because they think that holding certain opinions is evidence of love, and they love everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Just ask them, they’ll tell you.  

Before we delve too far into this, we need to answer a few basic questions:

1.     Who is your neighbor?

2.     What does it mean to love them?

3.     How do we show compassion to those who are not our neighbors?

Who is your neighbor?

Is there any Scripture, Old or New Testament, that says, “Thou shalt love every person on Earth?”  If there is, I’ve never even heard of it, let alone read it.  In the context of Scripture and in the context of life, our neighbors are those people in close proximity to us.  Those people in our sphere of influence.  They are the people we might come into contact with today, or this week. While this means that not all seven billion people on Earth are your neighbors, it’s really no less daunting because this means that not only are your actual neighbors, your neighbors, but that person you see in the supermarket is your neighbor.  The guy who works in the gas station is your neighbor.  Your co-workers, the people at the gym, the folks at your church, all of them, and more, are your neighbors.  Just because it doesn’t mean everyone on earth, it’s still a lot of people.  And, as I’ve written before, love is an action verb, this means there are a lot of people you have to do things with or for.  You cannot just think good thoughts, you have to act on this love.  

I think one of the reasons people claim to love everyone on earth is it makes it easier to be a jerk to that person in traffic, or be rude to the waiter at the restaurant.  Perhaps it’s people over-compensating for the “proximity effect”.  By that, I mean, when you hear of a disaster halfway around the world that kills 3,000 people, you feel sad for a moment, but when you heard about 3,000 people dying on September 11th, your heart broke because it hit closer to home.  I am 100% guilty of this myself.  The thought of 3,000 Americans dying in a terrorist attack, all these years later, still brings back the heartache I felt that day.  When I see a story on the news about an earthquake or other natural disaster, or even more distant due to time, the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I feel sorrow, say a quick prayer and then move on about my day as if it didn’t even happen.  The victims of those circumstances were no different than the victims of 9/11 in the eyes of God, but, I am not God.  I am human, and I have limitations.  I just don’t have the capacity to love a stranger the way I love my daughter, or to love a person halfway around the world the way I love the folks who live two doors down.  God has that capacity, but I don’t.

What does it mean to love your neighbor?

After establishing who are neighbors are, the question is, how do we show them love?  Well, there’s a thousand different ways depending on the situation, so I won’t go into details here, but just cover the basics.  Be kind to everyone you see.  Don’t judge people, even if they’re not kind to you.  Be patient with people.  Observe the Golden Rule, how would you want to be treated in a given situation? If in doubt, read what Paul had to say about it in Romans 12:9-21.  You can’t beat his words of wisdom.  Again, you must act

How do we show compassion to those outside our sphere of influence?

There are numerous ways to accomplish this as well, but first and foremost, we must remember every human being, from conception, is a child of God no different than we are.  We can condemn actions or ideas, but we must not condemn the people themselves, lest we too be condemned.  Whether the person who we feel ill will towards is a Muslim suicide bomber, an American “white nationalist” (more on that soon), or any other person, we must remember no person is beyond redemption or God’s grace.  

When opportunities arise to help those far away, whether that be sponsor a mission trip to Uganda or donate a few bucks to earthquake relief in India, we should help if we can.  However, we cannot allow these small actions to justify patting ourselves on the back and then ignoring those folks we come into contact with every day.  Our duty is to those closest to us first, then to others, if we’re able.  It’s not about time and money, it’s about love.

In conclusion, WWJD?

WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do? Is a good reminder to wear around your wrist to do the right thing. However, remember to actually ask yourself the question.  Would Jesus sit in judgment of a person, or would Jesus show kindness to that person? Would Jesus treat this guy poorly because the last person he had contact with was a jerk to him?  Let God judge when it’s all said and done, but until then, don’t bogart the grace.  God gives us grace and it’s up to us to share it and there’s no better way to show God’s love and grace than to act it out for others to experience, whether they deserve it or not.  Maybe especially if they don’t deserve it.