A semi-regular attempt (in other words, as I have time) to explore the interaction between God and the adolescent world, especially the connection between theory and praxis (otherwise known as practical theology). Primary emphasis will be given to the role of the church (and especially the emerging church) in this process.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Loving Our Neighbor as Ourself

I'm writing a book that attempts to tackle the subject of holiness for late adolescents. I'm currently writing a chapter on the importance of our reaching out to the world around us as a natural consequence of being holy people.

Toward that end, I was working on a passage we all know well: Luke 10:25-27 (The Parable of the Good Samaritan). This is one of those passages we've all heard and read countless times, but as I was studying it today, I had a new revelation.

When Jesus was asked by the expert in the law what the greatest commandments were, He turned the tables by asking the question of the so-called expert. The man answered, “‘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 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27).

When we read this, we assume we know what it means to love our neighbor. In fact, for many of us, love for our neighbor has degenerated into a therapeutic interpretation of this verse, such that the emphasis is on loving ourselves. But that is not the way Scripture is written. For their part, the Biblical writers simply tell us what the Biblical characters are doing rather than what they are thinking or feeling. That's significant, as it moves the impetus off of us and our needs, and propels us to move outward and actually do ministry for the sake of God to others.

Most of us, I would guess, don’t have the background knowledge that this expert in the law had. (At least I didn't.) For in summing up these two commandments He draws from two Old Testament passages. The first, called the Shema, is found is Deuteronomy 6 and is where the first commandment to love God is drawn from.

However, it’s the second passage, found in Leviticus 19:11-18, which I found intriguing. Here it is:
Do not steal.
Do not cheat one another.
Do not lie.
Do not use my name to swear a falsehood and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
Do not cheat or rob anyone.
Always pay your hired workers promptly.
Show your fear of God by treating the deaf with respect and by not taking advantage of the blind. I am the Lord.
Always judge your neighbors fairly, neither favoring the poor nor showing deference to the rich.
Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.
Do not try to get ahead at the cost of your neighbor's life, for I am the Lord.
Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives.
Confront your neighbors directly so you will not be held guilty for their crimes.
Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (NLT)

Do you see it? The command of Yahweh in these verses is simple justice for the neighbor and compassion for the vulnerable.

So what does this have to do with holiness? Everything! As we learn to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, in return God’s love begins to fill us up. However, I would suggest that is does not become “perfect” love until it is brimming over the top, finding it’s way into the lives of others as we share life together.

I think Mother Teresa understood this concept when she wrote:
"I know that when I touch the limbs of a leper who stinks I am touching the body of Christ the same as when I receive the Sacrament. This conviction of touching Christ under the appearance of a leper gives me a courage which I would not have otherwise. Today once more, Jesus comes among His own, and His own do not know Him. He comes in the very hurt bodies of our poor. Jesus comes to you and me, and often, very often, we let Him pass without noticing” (A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations).

May we all learn to let the love of God flow naturally to the world around us, as we seek to be holy people not so we will feel better about ourselves, but so that we may be a reflection of who Jesus is in us.

Those of us who follow Jesus always discover that we receive more than we give for we find our reward in the joy of the people whom we serve.


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