We all know that God commands us to love thy neighbor. For such a simple and straightforward command, it sure can be hard to do sometimes. At least, it is for me!
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a Propel Women workshop in Orange County, California! It was quite a long journey from Mississippi but worth the 5:55am flight and long travel.
On my flight out to California, I sat squeezed into a middle seat between two large men. As I struggled awkwardly with finding a comfortable position in my “tight quarters,” I was reminded of the commandment to love our neighbors. I settled in to four hours between the two snoring giants and let my mind wander. The thought struck me:
How often do we find it hard to show love to those that are closest to us?
In the time of Jesus, the Jewish religion had divided into several parties, or sects. The most popular group, known as the Pharisees, prided themselves on their strict adherence to Mosaic law. A very self-righteous group, they placed higher value on appearance then morals. Jesus was often tested with questions regarding the law of Moses and the prophets throughout his ministry. The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat, rather than a messiah, to the Jewish nation. They considered his radical display of love to ALL people (not just Jews) to be an abomination to the faith. His generosity to everyone was unprecedented, and it threatened the religious exclusivity that they cherished. At the time, the Pharisees observed all Jewish laws and customs, yet with misplaced motivations to do so. Jesus teaches that having a heart for God is more important than going through the motions of practicing faith, that giving one’s heart to God is more important than performing ritual sacrifices and offerings.
In the following passage, a scribe is inquiry which of the commandments is the greatest. Keep in mind that Jesus is speaking radically about ideas never heard of before. Today, 2000 years later, his ideas still seem radical and difficult to ingest fully. Imagine how bewildered they must have been hearing the words of our Lord:
A scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:28-34, ESV
Did you catch that? Jesus told the scribe “Good job! A+” for his wise answer. All the scribe did was repeat Jesus’ words back to him.. big deal! Read it again. Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely, and commended him on his faith. Jesus must have seen a heart full of faith as this scribe not only gave the right answer, but spoke it with genuine belief in the words he had said aloud.
This scribe was no dummy; he believed at first sight! Surely his heart must have been stirring in awe. Jesus spoke with such authority in his words that Mark tells us that no one else there even dared to ask any more questions. Wow! In a few mere sentences, Jesus shut down their game of 20 questions. His authoritative truth swept in and knocked them mute.
Hear the words of Jesus recorded by the apostle John:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. – John 5:25, ESV
Eternal life. The kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells us these everlasting rewards are available for any who listen to him and believe what he says.
He does not instruct us to love the neighbors of our choosing, but to love everyone. For me, sometimes, proximity can be an enemy. I wonder if the scribe wanted to kick any of his neighbors in the synagogue that day. I would have! Life presents so many opportunities to knock some sense into our neighbors. However, Jesus said to love them!
So there it is: the unavoidable commandment to love all, no matter their distance, or lack thereof. I find that the power to even attempt such an impossible feat comes only through God. We receive the ability and will to love others when He pours his perfect love into us. Only then can we pour out that unstoppable love on our neighbors.
Disclaimer: The closer your neighbor is to you, the more likely you are to get splashed with that awesome love! Tight quarters get hot; you will be amazed at how refreshing that little splash will be!