(For those of you who may not espouse to any particular faith, I am about to get Jesus up in here.)
Jesus summed up our purpose in life quite clearly in Matthew 22:37-39:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
For years, I took "neighbors" to mean the people around me. Those living outside my home. Those who lived next door and on my street. The people who served me in restaurants or waited on me at stores, the mailman, the woman who never waives back, the homeless guy muttering to himself. Other drivers.
And then, "Doh!"
Recently, during a 2x4 moment, I realized that my neighbor is also my spouse, my children, my parents, my in laws . . . and then I crumpled over what a horrible witness I've been. We've all been there.
God wasn't done.
What Jesus doesn't state in this passage is that loving one's neighbor will be instinctual, comfortable, and easy. Or even bearable. Sure, it would be great if we were all swaying together in one big love fest - but we come together to form this "perfect union" from different families, ethnic roots, life experiences, educational backgrounds, convictions, faiths, political affiliations, and personal tastes, which, in turn, make up our opinions, beliefs, and biases.
As Christians, we are COMMANDED, to LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS as we hang out at this big 'ole block party together. I have no issue with everyone having their opinions. Come on, I'm as opinionated as they come. I am, however, struggling, deeply struggling, with HOW these opinions are communicated especially by those of us who follow Jesus.
People, face it. Those of us who consider ourselves Christians can be downright unloving towards our neighbors.
"What?!" you say. "But I lent so-and-so my leaf blower just last week! I'm as neighborly as they come!"
Newsflash. Our neighborhood also includes President Obama. Guess what? He's your neighbor. And George W. Yep. Neighbor. Michelle Bachman. Needing to borrow a cup of milk. Democrats. Living next door. Republicans. Mowing the grass. Tea Party Members. Having a barbeque. Muslims? Yes. All of them. Neighbors.
Search that scripture again. It doesn't state that loving one's neighbor is a SUGGESTION, nor does it place parameters, boundaries, or restrictions on how much love to give or when to dole it out. This is where Jesus is so gosh darn revolutionary. In fact, he even said in Matthew 5:43-45:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
Wait a minute. LOVE MY ENEMIES? Yes. AND pray for them. Honestly, we fall prey to quarreling, debating, and fighting about political and religious differences (me included), but really? This is not our job. We do not cause the sun to rise on the evil and the good. And as far as I can tell, I have never sent down rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Who am I to read a person's heart and soul? That is God's territory. I'm tainted. I can't read that map.
However, I have been given the following marching orders:
1. Love God
2. Love my neighbors as myself
3. Love my enemies
4. Pray for those who persecute me
This is a great challenge when it comes to the political climate of our country. James 3:9-12 addresses what comes out of our mouths (or, might I add, communicated via email, blog, text, or facebook post - geez Louise life has gotten complicated):
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Unfortunately, we forget this as we trample public officials. We actually think it's somehow OK to be lip-smacking rude to those who have chosen a career in politics. And it's not even WHAT we say that is the problem (unless we are spreading falsehood - then? I get ticked.), but rather HOW we communicate our stance. For while it is fine to disagree, it is not OK to be disrespectful. I'm no Pollyanna. I'm singing in the choir here. I realize we won't always have glowing things to say about everyone we meet (or don't meet), but, as we speak (or type) have we lost the ability to communicate truth with love and decency, or have our words been reduced to cursing?
How am I curbing my tongue (and keyboard) as it pertains to this subject?
- By refraining from bearing false witness against my neighbor: that means not disseminating information that I can not validate. I am going to try my darndest to stick to the facts.
- By refraining from attacking my neighbor's character.
- By apologizing, without adding a "but", when my words are found to be hurtful, or incorrect.
Oh, and guess what. I'll trip up. See, I'm not perfect. No party is perfect or the correct one for our nation. Human beings are way to prideful to bring about hope and change, or fix what they think didn't bring about that hope and change.
It is bigger than us.
Won't you be my neighbor?