The youth from last week’s mission trip to the City learned what it meant to be a neighbor. The following is a summary of one of our late night talks.
There is a striking simplicity to God’s Law. In response to an insincere inquiry from a snooty religious leader, Jesus said we must love God with every particle of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves. Pretty simple right? Not exactly. Love God, love my neighbor. I have learned over the years that loving God with complete abandon and surrender is a trickier act to pull off than one might realize. I discover every day that I am more self-focused than God-focused. If God had said “love yourself,” then I’d be good to go.
Loving my neighbor though, that should be easy, right? I cannot see God, but I can see my neighbor and his need. The selfish, self-loving, self-focused, self-centered self again makes even this relatively simple task difficult.
Each day reveals amazing new horizons of who my neighbor might be: someone of a different ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic class. City living reveals them all. Why is it that instead of embracing those who are radically different from me, I gravitate toward those who are most like me? Could it be that I think the ones like me are the only ones worthy of my love?
In reality, God’s Law is not simple, but complex. Jesus addressed this issue to a religious leader of his day. Click here to read the text of Luke 10:25-37 from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.” The seemingly godly religious leader was “looking for a loophole” in how he defined the concept of neighbor. In return, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ll summarize: There was a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho on a notoriously dangerous road. He gets jumped, stripped of his clothes, robbed, and gets a beat-down that leaves him half-dead. “Luckily,” Peterson quips, a priest comes his way, but he ignores the man. A Levite, another religious man, comes by and he ignores him. You can almost hear the justification for neglecting the man, “Should have known better than to be in that neighborhood.” Finally, a Samaritan, one who was despised by Jews of the day, finds the man, takes care of his wounds, loads him on a donkey, takes him to an inn for rest, and shells out a significant amount of cash to take care of the man. So Jesus asks, which one was the man’s neighbor? The religious leader is left with only one obvious answer, and Jesus told him in essence to stop looking for loopholes and go and do the same.
Being a neighbor can be costly, inconvenient, and messy. It can get in the way of our comfort, safety, security, our schedule and maybe even our financial prosperity. When we are down and out we hope other people will jump to our own aid and comfort. Most of us would not withhold loving care to those in our families or our closest friends. Why do we so to others?
Jesus invites us to something deeper. Jesus became a friend to his enemies. The Scripture in Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still rebels who hated God by loving ourselves too much, Jesus made a costly decision to embrace us anyways. It meant that He would bear God’s righteous anger for our sins. He took the fall so that we could again become friends of God.
Jesus calls us to stop looking for loopholes. Stop attempting to define your neighborly responsibility by looking at the color of someone’s skin, or the accent with which they speak, or by the type of clothes they wear, or home in which they live, or the neighborhood where they live. Neighbors are all around us, some are lying in the streets that are notoriously dangerous. Others are holed up in lonely places that we might see if we would take the time to knock. There are neighbors all around us that desperately need to see and feel the love of another human being. And when we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, we just might be discovering what it means to love God with every particle of our being.