The verse we are learning this week is Matthew’s version of the Great Commandment:
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” occurs 8 times in the Bible. You can listen here to how I worked with the text last Sunday.
In the gospel of Luke the command sparks the question, “And who is my neighbor?” which Jesus answers with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I felt that a conversation about loving one’s neighbor on July 21, 2013, called me to speak about Trayvon Martin’s death and the recent verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Here’s what I said:
We are in the midst of a great national debate over the questions: Who is my neighbor? and How do I treat my neighbor?
The debate has been going on for generations, but it intensified with the death of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, and it escalated with the jury’s verdict last Saturday night.
At the heart of the debate are the age-old questions: Who is my neighbor? How do I treat my neighbor?
I realize this is not what you hear debated on television because the lens of these two clear questions is smudged by hot button political issues such as the right to bear arms and to stand your ground when threatened. The lens of the two primary questions is smeared with arguments about the fairness of our courts and whether we truly have justice for all. Now, these are important national questions that need to be debated and resolved, but they cloud the central issues: Who is my neighbor? How do I treat my neighbor?
What we do as a nation is to choose sides and go to our opposite corners—Fox news interviews George Zimmerman’s brother, CNN interviews Trayvon Martin’s parents—where we watch the channel that confirms our biases. Our opinions galvanize and our egos take over until all we can see is either/or, right/wrong, my side/your side. And nothing changes.
But if we let Jesus into the room he will immediately go to the heart of the matter.
Jesus will tell a story about one man dying in a ditch and another man who helps him, with great effort and at significant personal expense. And he will have the men be mortal enemies. Jesus will paint a picture of what loving your neighbor looks like. For one person it is an inconvenient interruption to serve someone you have been taught to hate; for the other, helpless and barely hanging onto life, you are forced to receive the assistance of someone you’ve been taught to hate.
Then Jesus will ask, “Now, who is your neighbor?”
Remember that Jesus, companion of outcasts, draws the circle very large. Pharisee and Sadducees were his neighbors. So were tax collectors, peasants and prostitutes. In Jesus’ vocabulary neighbor is not a word that some people are and others are not. Neighbor is the people you like and the people you don’t. Neighbor is the people you are comfortable with and the people you were taught to shun because they are lesser beings. For Jesus, neighbor is all of God’s children.
Now that Jesus has clarified who our neighbors are, how do we treat them?
If we were serious about following him, the pistol would stay in a drawer, the fists would unfold and remain in our pockets.
We reside in a world in desperate need of repair. But we can only fix the world out there when we have fixed the hearts in here.
Who is your neighbor? According to Jesus: everybody. And how will you treat them? Let’s start with not hating them.
As Greg Brewer, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida put it:
I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride to get him out of the rain that night.