Friday, February 19, 2010

Loving my Neighbor.. even the one with the barking dog.

If only we lived in the fairy tale home, with the perfect little gingerbread houses and smiling and happy people as our neighbors.
However, this is not reality. 10 homes in my building. On my floor - there is a young, gay male who works as a waiter across the hall; the person to my left is a young, african american, single female; across from her is a 40-something year old white female. All professional. All quiet.

Below us is a young military guy and across from him is another guy in his early 30s. Right below me is a young african-american, military couple - and across from her is a LOUD, obnoxious 20 year old who throws parties most weekends. Below them is a punk-rock guy who practises his guitar most afternoons, and two college students across from him.

Do I love my neighbors? Lord knows I am trying. But I don't really think that is what the meditation I came across is all about today.

By loving your neighbor, you are traveling on a journey.
Where are you journeying except to the Lord God.
We have not yet reached the Lord, but our neighbor is with us already.
So, support your neighbor who is traveling with you, so that you may reach Him with whom you long to dwell.
~St. Augustine, 5th century

As promised, I am on my Lenten journey. I must admit - I have stayed off Facebook (and I miss it) - but I have not done my devotions the way I wanted to. I even skipped out of Ash Wednesday. I have my reasons, and they are personal. I will just leave it at that.

But I have done something that I normally am completely inable to do - I am loving my neighbor. This means I am truly taking a moment and seeing each person as an individual - living, breathing, feeling person. I know you are probably thinking - geez Nicole..

Let's be honest with ourselves for one minute. We love people who love us. We love people who meet our standards. And Lord knows, we love people who are really, really bad off (as in the poor children in Africa, and the victims in Haiti.)

What about the redneck down the street that slings racial slurs? What about the egotistical CEO that is taking more than giving back? Can we take a moment and see them for the person they are?

I don't believe anyone is born innately evil. I don't. I believe the world around us shapes us into the hateful, judgemental, angry, insecure people that we all are. And yes - we all have hate in our heart. Do you hate a sinner? Do you hate the murderer? Do you hate the child molestor?

Here is an example of what we (Christians) are taught:

~And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 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." (NAS, Mark 12:28-31)

In Jesus' teachings, our relationship with our fellow men, women and children is inseparable from our relationship with God. Love of God and love of our neighbors are two aspects of the same calling:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV, John 13:34-35)

Who is my Neighbor?
We commonly think of neighbors as the people who live near us, but Jesus meant it to include all mankind - even our enemies! Jesus told His famous parable of the Good Samaritan to make it clear that "love your neighbor" means to love all persons, everywhere - not just our friends, allies, countrymen, etc.:
One day an expert on Moses' laws came to test Jesus' orthodoxy by asking him this question: "Teacher, what does a man need to do to live forever in heaven?" Jesus replied, "What does Moses' law say about it?" "It says," he replied, "that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself." "Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you shall live!" The man wanted to justify (his lack of love for some kinds of people), so he asked, "Which neighbors?" Jesus replied with an illustration: "A Jew going on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, and beat him up and left him lying half dead beside the road. "By chance a Jewish priest came along; and when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Jewish Temple-assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but then went on. "But a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw him, he felt deep pity. Kneeling beside him the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his donkey and walked along beside him till they came to an inn, where he nursed him through the night. The next day he handed the innkeeper two twenty-dollar bills and told him to take care of the man. 'If his bill runs higher than that,' he said, 'I'll pay the difference the next time I am here.' "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the bandits' victim?" The man replied, "The one who showed him some pity." Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same." (TLB, Luke 10:25-37)

The Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for hundreds of years. The Jews of Jesus' society considered the Samaritans to be ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, religious heretics. Yet, the Samaritan took pity on the poor man who had been robbed and beaten. He gave freely of both his time and his money to help this Jewish man who was not only a stranger, but also an enemy from a foreign country. In His parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus challenges us to "Go and do the same."

To reinforce that "love your neighbor" applies to everyone, Jesus extended the rule of love to even our enemies!

"There is a saying, 'Love your friends and hate your enemies.' But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (TLB, Matthew 5:43-48)

Like the unselfish Samaritan man of Jesus' parable, we are called to extend our love and concern to all persons everywhere, as our neighbors. We should not exclude anyone or any group because of social status, a supposed character fault, religious difference, racial difference, ethnic difference, citizenship difference, etc.
This is my Lenten revelation (of sorts.) This what I will attempt to do.

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