“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?
The most common dictionary definition tells me it’s the person who lives next door. That means there is a neighbor to the left and the right of me. Might I somehow love the whole wide world by simply loving my next door neighbors?
Could a “relay of love” spread household by household and neighbor-to-neighbor until one day there is nothing left in the world but love?
The whole wide world filled to the bubbling brim with love?
Sure. Right. Anything you say, Lord….
….But seriously, Jesus, that is so much pie-in-the-sky thinking that the clouds will be made of apples, pecans and a golden brown crust before the world ever spreads its lovey-dovey wings like that and flies off to a better place.
But, still, I must admit, kindness can spread kindness. A smile may beget a smile. I’ve seen and felt both happen.
Anger spreads like wildfire into war, so why can’t compassion put those flames out just as quickly? And why not before the first match is even struck?
Jesus knows that the biggest answers to the toughest questions all come from the same place: the human heart.
Every evil. All goodness. All darkness and every light are all born in the human heart before they ever flip a single switch in the world. That is why Jesus took relentless aim at the human heart, even to his dying breath of forgiveness on the cross.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he tells us, beseeches us, begs us.
Easier said than done. Which, of course, is why Jesus said it in the first place. It needed saying because it needed—and still needs—doing.
But, how long would Jesus last if he walked down the aisles of Congress preaching that soundbite of neighborly love?
What, are you kidding me?
Even the simplest definition of the word “neighbor” would have no chance at all in that political arena today.
Love the person to the political left of me?
Love the person to my political right?
You are asking me, Lord, to realize that you love them, too, those on my left and those on my right? Republicans and Democrats? And you’re asking me to love them all?
Jesus probably had a pretty sharp sense of humor, especially if it could help make a point, so I imagine him answering this way:
“Yes, because you are very much neighbors. Isn’t it called the House of Representatives?”
Everything Jesus ever said is easier to say than it is to do—until we actually go out and do it, and then we wonder what took us so long.
Washington, D.C. does often seem like a hopeless case—and it is a reflection of the current national divide among the nation’s population—but if you and I simply love those who live to the right and the left of us, well, one day that Relay of Love could reach Congress and then who knows what might happen next.
But before we begin that journey there is something we must do.
The first step, Jesus knows, is loving ourselves. Not in a selfish, egotistical way, but as a child of God—vanity replaced with humble, joyous gratitude. Only then can we recognize, and love, the child of God next door.
And from that moment we will grow to realize that our neighbors fill every nook and cranny of the world.