When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ -- Matthew 22:34-40
Another bombing, more shootings, more violence. It seems like every time I think things can't get worse, they can--and do. Between those and the campaign rhetoric, it's almost enough to make me want to get in a hole and pull it in after me. Lacking a hole, I close the door to my house and stay inside, foregoing news reports and radio broadcasts as much as possible. Maybe I'm trying to retain my sanity rather than giving in to fear, hate, and distrust that seem so rampant..
One of the passages we hear frequently is part of today's gospel, especially the part about "Love your neighbor as yourself." There are lots of people don't like Muslims, Hispanics, or much of anybody who is not like them. It's becoming a world where "love your neighbor" is becoming unheard-of, unless it is a neighbor who looks, acts, thinks, believes, and votes the same way we do. A neighbor, in short, is somebody we're comfortable with. Heaven help us if the neighbors are GLBTQ, wearing a turban (a Sikh, often mistaken for Muslim, or of a different skin color, speaking a different language, or, God forbid, never being seen to enter a church.
It amazes me that these things are now so prevalent that there is no escaping it. There are groups, individuals, churches, and communities, who were trying to make a difference. Organizations, established primarily for the reason of loving their neighbor and showing that love, do exist, but we don't always hear about them; we sort of have to stumble over them. That's in line with Jesus' teaching about not doing good works in the public spotlight lest they be seen as braggarts.
Jesus put more emphasis into trying to explain and demonstrate loving our neighbor than he did to judging our sexual preferences, upholding the upper echelons of the rich and powerful, or overthrowing the Roman government. He was about love, maybe not always using the word, but definitely exemplifying it: helping the centurion's manservant or perhaps his shield mate; Jarius' daughter; the woman with hemorrhage; the woman taken in adultery; and more.
I wonder what would happen if Jesus were walking around on our streets today. What would he say about the homeless, the veterans who were brave enough serve and who were promised benefits when they got home, only to find their government didn't know who they were, what they did, and, as far as benefits went, they didn't give a rip about that either. Yet those same politicians are never shy about raising their own benefits, salaries, or anything else that benefited them or their friends. That's not love, it's greed, and greed is the opposite of compassion.
Jesus fed the 5000 with two loaves and five fish. He fed everybody-- young, old, male, female, seniors, children, the whole works. He didn't turn anyone away because everyone there was hungry. He didn't make them sit through a sermon before he fed them like some places do; rather, he fed them until they were full and ready to listen. As any parent or teacher knows, people are able to concentrate more on what they're hearing and experiencing when they don't have that specter of an empty stomach rumbling loudly enough for a neighbor to hear.
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Two very simple commandments that incorporate not just the 10 Commandments within them, but also all 613 mitzvoth, rules that were to be followed. Some were only for priests, and others for everyone. They are pretty important, I think. And those two commandments are simple enough a child could understand them. So why do adults have such a problem with them?
It's our job to love our neighbors. There are things I don't like about neighbors, like their loud music, or mowing the lawn it 6 a.m. on Saturday when I would like to be sleeping late, or revving their motorcycle engines and shaking the whole house. Except for those things can I can love them, and that said without patting myself on the back unduly. You can't collect Workmen's Compensation for patting yourself on the back, although I think Congress has tried that.
God loves us. Jesus loves us. The spirit loves us. All that is asked of us is that we love God and we love all God's children. Love not hate. Care for, not ignore or take away from. Help, not hinder. It's a very simple, so why are we not doing that. We permit fear, harsh rhetoric, name-calling, and finger-pointing to be such an integral part of our lives that we don't even really realize what were doing. We call ourselves Christian, but doesn't that mean doing what Jesus told us to do? Are those things Jesus asked us to do? Really?
Love your neighbor and love God. Maybe it's not going to change the entire world for one person to step up and say, "Okay I'll take that challenge," but it sure is a start. Yes, we have people who do hate us, some because we don't believe as they do, some because of our corporate arrogance and greed, and some because they watch our actions and those actions don't match the claims we make about them.
So, for the next week, my challenge to myself is just stop and think. What message am I giving when I run somebody down verbally or mentally, or look with disfavor on certain people who support things that I find unimportant or detrimental to the common good. They are all neighbors of mine, whether I like them or not.
The question is clear: where is the love? And what am I doing to find and show it?
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, July 2, 2016.