In the early 1990’s, I moved to South Florida where I lived for about five and a half years. One of the first things I noticed was the number of cars with the same bumper sticker. Red letters on a white background simply stated: Love your neighbor. I never knew who started this campaign or anything about its focus, but these bumper stickers were on cabs, city vehicles, and privately owned cars and trucks.
Love your neighbor. Christians know this phrase from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 12. Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment. He said that the greatest is to love God and went on to explain that second is like the first: to love your neighbor as yourself. People of the Jewish faith know that Jesus was actually restating part of Leviticus chapter 19. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the command, “Love your neighbor” is first used in Leviticus. But these words are echoed elsewhere and are found in Islam. To quote the Prophet Muhammad, “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself” (Sahih Muslim)
But what does it mean to love your neighbor?
I’m not sure that many people actually think about what it means to love their neighbors. It seems to me that there’s a basic assumption that as long as we don’t go out of our way to hurt others, then we love our neighbor. If I consider the sacred stories of my own Christian tradition, I find that just doesn’t measure up.
In the gospel attributed to Luke, when Jesus responds that we are to love our neighbor, someone asks, “Who is my neighbor?” I bet most of those who first heard this story didn’t like the answer. As the story goes, a foreigner who was mixed race and had a religion viewed by the Jews as nothing but wrong came upon a man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The foreigner nursed his wounds and took him for medical attention. He paid for the man’s medical care and rehab up-front, without knowing anything about him. While others had passed the injured man by and would have left him for dead (in particular, some religious leaders), it was the foreigner who was the real neighbor. If this story isn’t familiar to you, it’s commonly referred to as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
All the great religions of the world have The Golden Rule. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule . While the Golden Rule encapsulates the idea that we should treat others the way we want to be treated, in many faiths it is synonymous with the words: love your neighbor. This means something much more than not doing harm to others. Instead, it’s treating others with respect, doing what we can to provide for their needs, to be helpful to others in tangible ways.
We live in troubling times. The leaders of many countries have adopted a stance in which “taking care of us” is the basis for governmental policy. Love your neighbor? While many countries claim to be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, this basic principle is lost on their leaders. Instead, a façade of religion is used to hide the horrors done to others: bombing innocent people, allowing people to die without food, water, or health care; creating conditions that ensure poverty for large numbers of people; and allowing brutalized refugees to be stranded.
While we can blame our politicians or corporate leaders for the problems that face the world, in the end, change begins with each of us. When we begin to take seriously our responsibility to love our neighbors, the world around us will begin to change. And, I trust, it will grow.
Yes, love your neighbor. We can each begin with assisting the people we encounter who are in need. Perhaps we can provide a listening ear, some food, or advocate for their care. To love your neighbor means to do something. While we may not be able to solve the problems of the world, we can still do something and be a good neighbor to others.
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.