Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You want me to love WHO?

So, who, exactly, is my neighbor?

When Jesus said loving our neighbor as ourselves was the second greatest commandment, just who did he have in mind? After all, there are huge differences between the way we live now and the way that Israelites lived when that command was first given (Lev. 19:18). Does he mean my literal next-door neighbor? Does he mean the person standing next to me at church? Does he mean "those of my tribe" - after all, he was talking to a tribal nation.

Of course, that's exactly the next question asked (by the "rich, young ruler," Luke 10:29). And Jesus made things a lot tougher on us by answering him with the story of the Good Samaritan. The upshot of his story is that our neighbor is anyone we can have mercy on, even if that is someone declared to be our enemy!

That makes trouble for us followers of Jesus when we begin to negotiate in the political sphere, because of course the mandate underlying much of politics is to win, for my group to win, my people to win, my party to win (and for those others to lose). Politics, and much of our culture, advises us to look out for number 1, because you can be sure no one else is busy looking out for you.

As Jesus' people, our mandate is to make "shalom," that whole-life harmony, health and peace of Paradise, wherever and whenever we can - that's the point of that picture given us of the first church in its worship and life together in Acts 2:42-47. It will be fleeting on this earth before the Lord returns, but that doesn't take away our task to aim at it. Our job is to have mercy wherever and whenever we can. We're supposed to be looking out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). We can disagree about how to do that and whether it should or should not be done through government means, but what we cannot succumb to is the temptation to say, "I've got mine; go take care of yourself." Not even if we think the troubles of others are their own fault.
Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves - how can that not mean working for others to have the same benefits I've enjoyed?

Jesus told us that in God's kingdom the last shall be first, and the first, last; and he told us that if we have two coats, we should give one to the man who has none. These things must inform our public personas as well as our church selves. We must act with wisdom, and love sometimes calls for restraint - but it never gives us permission to bolt our door and throw up walls and begin to defend ourselves and see those in need as a threat.

I admire those who keep themselves from getting caught up in a party spirit, who work diligently to find the best solutions to our common problems, and who take a lot of fire while they're working at it. This is the best kind of situation for Jesus' people to stop and ask themselves, "what would Jesus do?"

Jesus, who touched the lepers and conversed with ostracized women and washed the disciples' feet, would surely never advocate at attitude that says, "I've got mine; you're on your own."

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