Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves

I have a handful of blogs that I subscribe to. One of them is Pete Wilson, who is a pastor in Nashville. In his blog today, Pete linked to and talked about this article, which I had read a couple of days ago and am still moved by. I started to think about the ideas behind the article, but once I got to class tonight, one idea surpassed everything else: loving our neighbors as ourselves.
On the chalkboard, my professor had written the name of the class, her name, and one simple question: Who is my neighbor? Those of you who are reading this and know the Bible are probably already thinking of the story of the Good Samaritan, which is what I thought of at first as well. During the course of the class, my professor expanded on that concept and also included modern-day references for us to think about: Our neighbor is the prisoner in Gutanamo Bay. Our neighbors include suicide bombers in the Mideast. Our neighbors are those who hate our country. Our neighbors are the racists,the disabled, the gays, our enemies, and people we don’t see eye-to-eye with. Our neighbors include people who we feel mis-represent our culture or our religion. Our neighbors are the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the porn addicts. Our neighbors are the gang members. Our neighbors are the rapists, the murderers, the thieves, the embezzlers, the liars, the arsonists, the con men. Our neighbors are people we have never heard of, living across the world. Our neighbors are people who are different than us. Our neighbors are anyone we have gotten angry with or felt hatred toward. There is not one person in the world that is not considered “our neighbor” because we are all humans–we all have humanity in common.

I still can’t understand (and probably never will understand) why people choose to be so cruel to each other. At the core, we are all the same.

That is a hard thing to think about, but even more difficult to think about is that Jesus knewall of this about humanity–he knew about every seed of hatred that would be sown in all time. He knew of every person who would be mistreated at the hand of another human being. He knew of every betrayal, every flaw, every insecurity, every bad decision. He knew our prejudices. He knew of our broken, sinful nature. He knew all of that. But even with all of that, He still came because He loved us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8). While we were still sinners. While we were still rotten to the core. While we were still broken. While we were still hateful. Jesus not only knew about the cruelness of humanity, he experienced it through His death on the cross. He allowed the soldiers to whip him and crucify Him. Jesus endured humanity at its worst for a reason. Hebrews 12:2 tells us

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

He endured our cruelty because He knew it would allow us to come to Him. He let Himself go through that because he loves us. I don’t know about you, but I know I could never have done that. (That is why God is God and not me) The words of one hymn in particular have been in my head since the end of class, when I really started to think about this:

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
And make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon his cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Loving your neighbor is much easier said than done, I realize that. However, that is not to say that it cannot be done. On your own and with your own strength, it is very likely that you will be unable to do so. In order to love your neighbors, you will need God to love them through you. Humanity on its own cannot love. God is love. God is the source of and the definition of love. Sure, we can try on our own to love our neighbors, but it is only through God that we can truly show them love. This is challenge for me as well, but I know that it can be done. “I can doall things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even loving my neighbors.

In light of all of this, I challenge you to show your neighbors the love that they deserve. Show them the love of Jesus. Show them that they matter, simply because they are alive. Love them unconditionally, even if you don’t think that they deserve it. Jesus did that for you.

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