Who Is Your Neighbor?
One thing that is critically important to keep in mind as we make this journey together is the definition of difficult. Difficult: requiring much effort to accomplish. The most important thing to understand about difficult is that it is not impossible. Too many people think that the teachings of Jesus are impossible, and that is not so. History is full of men and women who have celebrated life through these teachings.
Now, let’s take a look at today’s teaching.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 22, verse 39.
If you thought loving a perfect God was hard, wait till you really try to love your imperfect neighbor. People can be obnoxious, selfish, irritating, impatient, arrogant, and endless creative in their ability to annoy you.
There are two astoundingly difficult aspects to this phrase from the Gospel. The first is that Jesus assumes that you love yourself. This is perhaps what is most radical here, and also what is most often overlooked. It may also be one of the hardest aspects of the Christian faith to live. Jesus invites us to a total love of God and a generous love of neighbor, but he assumes that we already love ourselves. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is a connection between our ability to love ourselves in a healthy way and our ability to love our neighbor. If you despise yourself, and many of us do at different times in our lives, that needs to be attended to.
The second is the question asked by the lawyer in Luke’s Gospel, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The world is full of desperate need and destructive want. When we put our wants ahead of other people’s needs, we abandon our humanity. Who is my neighbor? That is the question of questions. It is one of the biggest questions of all. It challenges our morality, ethics, virtue, and worldview. When it comes to both world affairs and our individual quest to live authentically, this is a huge question. Who is my neighbor? One day I hope to write a book on this question alone. All I will say here is that the more we grow in wisdom and holiness, the more people we tend to include in our answer to this question. And for the saints, there were no strangers, just neighbors.
Jesus sets up this triad of teachings as the essence of the Gospel: Love God; love yourself; and love your neighbor. All are necessary to live the rich and full life of a disciple.
Once upon a time there was a young man who wanted to be a great saint. He spent hours each day in prayer and reading the holy Scriptures. One day, he said to God, “I love you above all else.” A moment later, he heard a voice from the heavens say, “Prove it.” The young man reflexively responded, “How?” And the voice from the heavens replied, “Love your neighbor.”
Love of neighbor is proof that we love God.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
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