A self-righteous, religious leader once asked Jesus a question. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22.36)?” And although Jesus knew that in his questioning, this man was up to no good, he responded “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22.37-39). For the reason that this man did not ask Jesus this question because he really cared much less wanted to know what the heart of God was, I want to believe that upon receiving this newfound information that he did not do anything with it. I suggest that he probably thought to himself, ‘Oh, well that’s nice’ and tried never to think about it again. Maybe this is just because his original intent was to catch Jesus messing up, hoping that his question would provoke an answer that would show the world that this man was a quack. Or maybe, just maybe it was because he really did not like his answer.
Love the Lord your God…with everything! This I am sure he knew, as I am sure we all know, is essential, pivotal to our spiritual wellbeing. Although I do not suggest that we do this, in fact, we are far away from loving God in the way that the scripture admonishes us to. If you don’t believe me. just have an honest conversation with yourself and tell me where are you are at on this one. Believe me, we all fall short in this area, but yet on some level we know that this is what we need to achieve. But what about that loving your neighbor as yourself nonsense? Why did Jesus put that in there? Because in fact, that is where all sin stems from, the failure to either love God or to love one’s neighbor. Just look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, briefly:
*Have no other gods before God (failure to love God)
*Don’t worship idols (failure to love God)
*Don’t take name of the Lord in vain (failure to love God)
*Remember the Sabbath (failure to love God)
*Honor your parents (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t murder (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t commit adultery (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t steal (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t lie (failure to love your neighbor)
*Don’t covet your neighbors stuff (failure to love your neighbor)
Ok, so now we know that there is some stake in us loving our neighbor as ourselves. But do we do this? On some level, we have failed to understand who are neighbor is. If you are still looking for a definition of that, read Luke 10.30-37, because I actually want to highlight something else. I think that on a very, twisted, deeper level that not only do we not understand who our neighbor is but that we fail to see that they could possibly be anything like us. We fail to see our neighbor, the other, as fully human and therefore fully deserving of love, respect, and dignity.
No, you don’t believe me. Ha. That’s fine, I did not think you would. But follow my train of thought, and by the end you will see where I am going with this.
During the period of slavery in this country, one idea that circulated was that black people had a different biological makeup than that of white people. Some even went as far as to suggest that black people were of a whole different species than whites. Which is fairly convenient, if you ask me, because in somehow proving, albeit falsely, so lets go with advocating, that black people are somehow biologically less than whites you have made a case that justifies maltreatment, slavery, rape, conquest, theft, discrimination, mass incarceration, exclusion from resources and so much more, that continues to this day.
The same can be said of our neighbors abroad in places like China, India, South Africa, Iraq, etc. We call these neighbors third world neighbors, or if you ask me, a third human. I bet you did not like that one, but lets be honest. Just because a country is not developed (and by whose standard are we measuring this development anyways, whose to say this is an accurate assessment based on the needs and resources of a given land, but that’s another story) does not mean that they are in a lesser world than we are in. Just because they may not possess the infrastructure, technology, government, and economy that perhaps America or England possesses does not mean that they should be labeled a third world nation. But in doing so, we are now justified in exploiting their land, and yes this still goes on though the ‘days’ of slavery and colonization are over. And we are justified in taking their resources without ever feeling that we should compensate for doing so, going as far as prohibiting people from those lands to come and somehow make a way for their family through cheap labor and taxes (yes, I am talking about immigration). And we are justified in ignoring their need for food, water, safety, and life, patting ourselves on the back anytime we throw a dollar their way because ‘we made a difference.’ We feel justified, because we have made them less than our neighbor and we do not see them in the same light that we see ourselves.
The same can also be said, and now I am going to really step on some toes, of the unborn. Ok, I am just going to come out and say it- abortion. Understand that I am not suggesting that a woman should not have a right to choose, that is an argument that I do not even want to touch right now. But, what I want to address is this whole idea of when life begins. Fertilization? Conception? 4 Weeks? 12 Weeks? 20 Weeks? 26 Weeks? 40 Weeks? Delivery? It is this question and our answer to it, that gives us permission to treat the unborn a certain way. Because if life does not begin until one is born, well then, this idea of humanness does not either, which once again justifies treating the unborn as some unrelated entity of us.
“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind…and your neighbor as yourself.” If we are truly loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, we have to start seeing our neighbors as ourselves- fully human, completely loved by God, and worthy of every blessing that we afford ourselves. Let’s stop making qualifiers of who belongs and who does not belong to the human race based on race, age, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status because we all belong- our only task is to learn how to get along.