“You should love your neighbor as yourself.”
This phrase touches the very heart of following Christ.
We find this call in the middle of the book of Luke. Jesus is having a bit of a back and forth with a lawyer of the day (‘lawyer’ at that time being a man who had intimate knowledge concerning the Law). The young lawyer asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life.
Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but… Jesus wins the exchange. He is the Son of God and all, but he does it in an interesting way - by getting the lawyer to boil the Law down into two very simple commandments.
“ ‘Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind;’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
Jesus tells the lawyer, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
On the one hand we have a man living under Levitical Law…..literally hundreds if not thousands of laws for him to abide by. And then, on the other side - there is this man, a Godly man, a man that many are calling the Messiah, telling this lawyer, “Hey, all those thousands of laws, it’s important, but the essence is THIS.”
The lawyer’s not being given a “get out of jail free card” - that is not the case at all. But in that moment, all the confusing and hard law is made incredibly graspable. I feel like the Lawyer should respond with praise or a sigh of relief.
But he doesn’t. He asks ANOTHER question, “Who is my neighbor?” (emphasis mine)
Isn’t it just like a lawyer to try and find a loophole?
Isn’t it just like a human to try and find a loophole?
Isn’t it just like ME to find a loophole?
We all do it when given a hard task. Especially when it’s a hard task that we would rather not do. And loving people is HARD. Especially people we don’t want to love. But even for those we do want to love - it’s hard and it’s ugly and it’s confusing and it’s messy and it hurts.
Even at it’s very best here on Earth, love is hard...because we are broken people trying to love other broken people in a broken place.
As Matt stated in one of his recent sermons, “Love is a relationship that always takes place in the ruins of life.”
This is not exactly the love that Hallmark or Hollywood are trying to sell. But there it is, staring us in the face - it’s the love that we have been called to.
Back to our lawyer friend.
He’s trying desperately to find a loophole. WHO is his neighbor? If the lawyer is anything like me, he is hoping that he can refer to his family, friends, the old lady next door, his work colleagues, people who vote like him or look like him, the fellas at the club or people in the same tax bracket, his church buddies. He’s really crossing his fingers and hoping that those are his only neighbors. Those are the people in his every day. They are the easiest to love. And they’re just so darn convenient.
Oh, but that’s not the story. That’s not how Jesus’ love functions. Our God is not a god of loopholes and His Son sure did like to call people out on their stuff.
Enter the story of the good Samaritan.
We all know it. A young Jewish man is walking along a road when he is stripped, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest walks down the same road and, not wanting to muss his pretty robes, he keeps walking right past our poor broken fella. A Levite (a member of the Israelite tribe set aside as a priesthood) happens upon him as well...and keeps on walking. This broken fellow was beaten and bruised and an Israelite, yet his own people ignored his pitiful existence. Ah, but then comes a Samaritan. Keep in mind that Samaritans are viewed pretty poorly by the Israelite community of the day - as vermin. However, this Samaritan stops in the middle of his journey, gets this wounded fellow some much needed help, AND foots the bill.
I can almost guarantee you that the young Israelite and the good Samaritan were not physical neighbors or work colleagues or drinking buddies. They probably wanted nothing to do with one another. And yet, this is how Jesus chooses to portray what it is to be a neighbor. Notice that we never see the Good Samaritan lecture the Israelite or expect a change in the Israelite’s behavior or belief system. In fact, it seems very clear that the Samaritan expects NOTHING in return for his acts of loving kindness.
Isn’t it just like Jesus to shut down every single possible argument we could have concerning neighbor criteria?
There are no loopholes.
Love is hard, but it is simple.
I’ve seen a few images recently that exemplify loving our neighbor in what could be considered some of the most difficult personal and physical circumstances.
The first is an image of a young woman. She is in the middle of an angry crowd of protesters. It’s clear that an exchange is becoming increasingly violent. She’s thrown her body on top of a man to protect him from those surrounding them. She’s a black woman. The man who she is trying to protect is a white supremacist. Neighbors.
The second image is one that circulated the internet during the Arab Spring. It is a photo taken in Egypt. It depicts a group of men forming a human chain around another group of men. It’s clear that the men are trying to hold out danger or menacing behavior - violence. They all look hard pressed and a bit stoic, determined. All the men are Egyptian. They are countrymen. However, the first group of men is Christian and they are encircling a group of Muslim men who are kneeled in prayer. Neighbors.
Love your neighbor. Simple.
Don’t look for the loophole. Don’t look for the RIGHT neighbor to love. Just love.
It will be a struggle. You will have to die to yourself over and over - because all your neighbors will never be exactly like you. They are not going to look the same, act the same, vote the same, speak the same, prioritize the same. They will be different.
But we are called to love. We are called to love how the good Samaritan loved.
We are called to love how Jesus loved.
And we CAN love because He first loved us.
Who is your neighbor? Do you love him?