Last night I attended a poetry event, and the conversation of “neighbor” came up. One of the poets made a powerful statement: Your neighbors are who the enemy has tricked you into forgetting. -Ezekiel Azonwu
When I hear the word “neighbor” my immediate thought goes to those on my left and my right in the community I live in. Yet even if those were my only neighbors, I still fall short. Love is an action word, and to be honest, I don’t even know their names.
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus commands us, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Most are familiar with the story of The Good Samaritan, taken out of Luke 10. Jesus told this story when a man challenged Jesus, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” In the story, a man is beaten, stripped of all his possessions, and left injured and out to die on the side of the road. Two men pass by avoiding this man, and then a third comes by, a Samaritan, who is known to not associate with the man in desperate need of help. But he loved him anyway. He didn’t just help the man up- no, he treated his wounds, he cared for him, and he placed the injured man on his own donkey and brought him to a place where he could receive further treatment-paying for all of it. That’s love in action. Love is sacrifice. Love is serving despite what others might say about you behind your back. Love is going the extra mile. Love doesn’t let social norms or barriers be a hindrance.
As Ezekiel Azonwu said, the enemy tries to get us to forget about everyone but ourselves. He tries to blind us to the love of Christ this world so desperately needs from each of us. We can’t fall into this trap that so easily entangles us though. Because when we forget who our neighbors are- when we aren’t walking in love…simply put, we are blatantly disregarding the second greatest commandment Jesus gave us.
Love thy neighbor.
Thy homeless neighbor.
Thy Muslin neighbor.
Thy Black neighbor.
Thy Gay neighbor.
Thy immigrant neighbor.
Thy Jewish neighbor.
Thy Christian neighbor.
Thy Athiest neighbor.
Thy addicted neighbor.
Thy annoying neighbor.
Thy selfish neighbor.
Thy rude neighbor.
The list goes on and on and on. I get so caught up in myself sometimes-working on my personal relationship with God, working on my recovery, reaching out to my friends and loving on them, that I so easily forget to love on my neighbors. Tonight I’m convicted as I sit in these thoughts and ask myself, “How many times was I more focused on ‘becoming a better Christian’ that I didn’t take the time to love the ones Christ has put all around me?”
I want to be a vessel of Christ’s love. Knowing Christ more, working on personal development, serving at church or volunteering somewhere- all of these things are good and needed, but God commands me to love my neighbors, and if at the end of the day, I didn’t do that, then how well am I upholding the first and greatest commandment? You know, the one that commands that I love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
God doesn’t say we can pick and choose who we love. He simply calls us to love. Love those who don’t love Jesus. Love those who don’t love you. Love those who you don’t like.
I don’t think God would have put such an emphasis on love if it wasn’t important. So despite beliefs I have about certain people, despite actions people take that I strongly disagree with, and despite any other excuse I might come up with to not love someone, I’m going to love them anyway. What about you?