The greatest two commands for all christians: Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). As Jesus says, “there is no greater command than these.”
Not hard, right?
The Luke version of this story tells us that the one questioning Jesus about keeping the law follows up with a self-justification question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Like him, we want to know just who we have to love. But of course, just a few verses before (6:27, 35) Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to do good to them who hate us. So, whether enemies or neighbors, we are called to love both.
Let’s admit that some neighbors are pretty easy to love. Tomorrow I am leaving for Rwanda to love my Rwandan neighbors. But you know what, it isn’t a hard thing to do. Besides the 23 hours of travel to get there and being away from my family, I can’t say it is much sacrifice. I’m given far more honor there than I deserve. The weather, food, and company are hard to match. If love is a sacrifice, this is hardly love.
Some neighbors are hard to love. They don’t treat us with the honor we think we deserve. They ask for things and don’t give back. Even worse, some neighbors hate us and seek to harm us.
Think for a minute: who do you find it hard to love? Is it a near (actual neighbor) person? A far person (a politician or person who represents an ideology you hate)? Have them in mind yet? Now think about what it means to love them. Since love is both doing things for someone and NOT doing evil to them, consider both the positive and the negative sides of your love.
Here’s some examples: What does it mean to love ISIS fighters? Do we pray for them even as we highlight victim stories? What does it mean to love Barack Obama (if you are opposed to his presidency) or Donald Trump (if you are opposed to his desire to be president? Do we gloat at their failures? Getting closer to home, what does it mean to love a person on the other side of you in the Same Sex Marriage Supreme Court ruling or in the race debates? What does it mean to love the person who swooped in and took your parking spot?
A Few Thoughts on What Love Means
Some might think that “love your neighbor/enemy” means never speaking up when wronged, never seeking justice, never making a stink. It does not. period. You can love your enemy even as you seek justice. Speaking the truth can happen…IF…it is done in love. So, what does speak the truth in love mean?
- Making sure that truth spoken is really true. Not exaggerating the flaws of the other; not engaging in slipperly slope argumentation. Straw men and exaggerations are not true.
- Making sure that love is the agenda for the truth. Speaking up for the sake of destroying a person’s career is not love. Though, speaking up to protect victims is love and to stop a person’s sinful behavior is also love.
Loving your enemy means being willing to forgive even before the forgiveness is sought. Of course, seeking and offering forgiveness does not mean justice and consequences for evil are not felt. But it does mean that I do not participate in an “eye for an eye” or vengence. As we remember, vengence is God’s to wield.
Finally, loving your enemy is not merely avoiding revenge but requires us to “do good.” How do we seek the welfare and the peace of a city (or a person) who does not consider our needs or treat us fairly?
Hard questions, but let us seek to be a community of people known for insane love of victims and perpetrators, willing to tell the truth and to see the prosperity of those who do not love us in return.