Over the past several weeks as I have reflected upon how to respond to the violence of our day, I keep coming back to the words, “Love your neighbor.” And I keep asking myself the question, “How do we love our neighbor when our neighbor is a neighborhood? When our neighbor is a different culture? When our neighbors disagree? When our neighbor is considered an “enemy”?
It may be too simplistic here, but most people think the Christian life consists of private, one-to-one relationships. Certainly this is a part of it. If we think being nice and smiling is all we need to do to live as followers of Jesus. We’re not living the full Christian life. We need to deepen relationships and live into loving our neighbor.
Most of us have reduced our social responsibility of loving our neighbor to the level of, what I call, band-aid ministry. We are willing to bind up the wounds of the people who hurt themselves, or to provide food for those who are hungry, or fill backpacks for those children who are “needy,” but we do very little to address the reasons why people are hurting, hungry, or in poverty.
The dynamics of loving your neighbor at the level of the neighborhood are different from the dynamics of loving your neighbor as a private individual.
Carl Michalson wrote, “But if we take this one teaching ‘Love your neighbor,’ and apply a little social intelligence and imagination, we would have enough to transform the socio-political world of our time.”
What do you think?
The Good Samaritan
Let’s consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. He goes down the road and sees a wounded man, a Jew. He does the loving thing to the private individual. He has a donkey. He puts the man on his donkey, takes him to the hospital, and pays part of his bill. He shows love for his neighbor. He should be commended for his care and generosity.
But what if the Samaritan went down the road and found two wounded Jews? The situation radically changes from a neighbor-relationship to a neighborhood-relationship. What will he do? He cannot go out spontaneously and offer his donkey. He has only one donkey and there are two-hurting people. He has limited funds but there are two people. What could he do? He could stand back and begin to strategize how to best love his neighborhood and how best to engage his Samaritan community in caring for the neighborhood.
What would the situation be if the Samaritan went down the road and saw a Jew and a Samaritan beaten and wounded by the robbers? What happens if his heart goes out spontaneously to the Samaritan? Would that be love? Or would that be discrimination? What could he do? He could stand back, rationalize, calculate, legislate, and strategize. But first, he must put aside his own personal preferences in order to engage and respond. Do you agree that love expressed to the private individual is not on the same level as love expressed to the neighborhood?
How do we respond?
Let’s try one more. Consider the Samaritan and Jew relationship. It seems to resemble part of the situation of our day. We are in a society not just with pluralistic demands, but one in which pluralistic demands are mutually contradictory. Our society seems to be divided according to what appears to be mutually exclusive interests. How do you love the whole neighborhood? How do we love at such a complex level? As Christians, isn’t our responsibility to find a way to love?
How do we respond?
Well, we could turn our backs, offer “thoughts and prayers,” and act like it is not our problem. Please hear me. I am not saying we should not pray. Please, please, please pray. It is good to know that someone is praying. But is “thoughts and prayers” the way we love our neighborhood?
We could become martyrs. We could stand firm in our defense of our ideals and with great zeal protect our position on issues. I have always found such action impressive, but ineffective. One who is martyred must be sure that his/her actions will change the situation. You can only be a martyr once.
We could love our neighbor, which includes our enemy. What would happen if we loved, not by trying to out power one another but, by neutralizing the causes that separate us while loving those with whom we disagree? What would happen if we stopped blaming and shaming one another and found ways to come alongside of one another, assisting each other to become who God created us to be?
We can create laws. We can study and implement best practices. We can take the moral high road.
But what we need is to express our faith in works of love and to include the neighborhood in those works. This is what I am thinking when I read and hear the words, “love your neighbor”. This is what is implicit in Jesus’ words, “Love you neighbor as yourself.”
Can I start today?
Luigi Piccolo was one of the greatest football coaches in college football history. We don’t know him as Luigi. We know him by the Anglicized version of his name, Lou Little.
There is a story of Lou Little and one of his famous football teams at Columbia University. He had a sophomore on that team who could not play very well, but Little considered him a good fellow. The coach liked him. He often saw him walking arm in arm with his father across the campus.
One day the boy’s mother called the coach and said that the boy’s father had died. She asked, “Would you tell him? You are so close to him.”
After the funeral, there was a big game. The sophomore came to the locker room, suited up, sought out the coach, and asked, “Coach, may I start today?”
Coach thought, “I can’t deny the boy the opportunity under such circumstances.” So, the coach said, “Yes, you may start today, but remember, this is a very important game. You may only play a few minutes. I’ll have to take you out.”
The boy started the game and played as he had never played before. In fact, he played most of the game. After the game, the coach went right to the locker room, sought out the boy and asked, “Tell me, why did you have to play today?”
The boy replied, “Well, coach, it is like this. This was really the first chance my father ever had to see me play. He was blind, you know.”
Love your neighbor
It seems to me that you and I will only begin engaging in our neighborhoods and our communities when we develop a more acute sense of the unseen eyes upon us, the eyes of God, who loves us and who has said to us, “Love your neighbor.”
Let me know when you are ready!