Who Is My Neighbor?

Sometimes, someone who isn't part of my church or doesn't regularly read the Daily Devos, watch my sermons, etc., will comment on something I've posted about God's inclusive and unconditional love and how we should show that love to everyone.  

Their comments typically read something like this: 

"You are ignoring what the Bible says about [fill in whatever divisive issue you like]. You can't call yourself a pastor and do that." 

Those comments usually never see the light of day because I get tired of arguing with people who simply want to argue online. 

But there are occasions when I will engage some of those folks in conversation because I want to let them know that not only are they missing the point, but they are also missing a lot of the Scripture they claim to hold up as authoritative. 

The truth is, anything I say about loving God and loving everybody being at the heart of what it means to be a Christian is going to rankle some folks.  

That thought should trouble all of us.  

For many people claiming to be Christians, the question that follows the phrase "Love God, Love Everybody" usually is something like the question Jesus was asked when he delivered the Great Commandment that phrase is drawn from. 

You see, Jesus was asked what the "greatest commandment" was, and he replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength," and then added, "And your neighbor as yourself." 

The immediate question from the crowd of religious elites he addressed was: "Who is my neighbor?"

The reason for the question then is the same as it is now.  When presented with the notion that love of neighbor was inextricably connected to loving God, the religious folks wanted to know who shouldn't be on the list. 

That's when Jesus told them the story about a man who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  

Two very religious Jewish men walked by his half-dead body, but the third man stopped to help.  In the story, the man who showed love for his neighbor was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans hated each other. 

Jesus made the hero of the story a man from a group of people that the religious elites who were listening could never bring themselves to show kindness, much less love.  

His point?  

By making a member of a group they hated the only person who showed compassion and kindness to the beaten man, Jesus demonstrated that everyone has the potential to be the neighbor we are called to love as ourselves. 

It's fascinating that many of us who claim to follow Jesus read that story and never see ourselves in it.  We keep asking, "Well, surely there must be some people I'm not obligated to love, right?" 

Just like those religious elites of old, so many Christians can't seem to grasp what Jesus was trying to teach that day.  

Fr. Richard Rohr puts it like this: 

The only people that Jesus seemed to exclude were precisely those who refused to know they were ordinary sinners like everyone else.  The only thing he excluded was exclusion itself. 

When Jesus taught about the love and grace of God, he tended to place the overly religious crowd on the hot seat.  It was like he was holding a mirror up to them so they could see what they had become in their efforts to be holy rather than whole. 

May we learn what it means to love God and others as Jesus taught and led by example.  May we learn to read Scripture through a lens of God's love and justice.  May we grow to see our neighbors as a limitless possibility for showing our love for God by loving them.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all now and always. Amen.  

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