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How Big is Your Neighborhood?

May 31st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Last week I gave you the number one rule for a truly successful life: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Here’s rule number two: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s an old one. I bet you’ve heard it already … but do you know what it really means?

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” was put on the books (The Book, actually) about 3,400 years ago. God gave it to Moses to give to the Israelites when He was making His covenant with them at Mount Sinai (Leviticus 19:18). It came to be known as ‘commandment #2’, right behind ‘commandment #1’ (you guessed it – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”).

Over time, the Pharisees (they were the super legalistic sect of Jews who managed the ‘righteous behavior’ of the common folk) ‘improved’ on God’s command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” by adding “… and hate your enemy.”

It only makes sense, I guess; there’s got to be a flip side. If God wants us to love our neighbor, then we’ve got to assume that he wants us to hate our enemy. At least that was best of Pharisee reasoning, and over the ensuing 1,400 years ‘love your neighbor’ morphed into, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Which opened up another can of worms – ‘just who, exactly, is my neighbor?’ If applied with enough pharisaical precision, one could narrow down neighbors to a very short list, which, of course, expanded the possibilities of those whom one could rightly consider enemies. This ‘improvement’ made the list of neighbors whom one was required to love much more manageable and opened vast territory for those whom one could rightly hate. The ‘improved’ law fit quite nicely the goal of maintaining a well managed, closely knit community protected from outside influences, so naturally, those doing the managing – the Pharisees – were all for keeping it.

By the time Jesus came along the Pharisees and their ‘improved’ laws were well in control of the Jewish community. For those in charge of the status quo, Jesus was a difficult issue. On one hand, he was obviously a miracle worker and displayed an uncanny wisdom in his teaching; the crowds loved him. On the other hand, he showed a particularly public disdain for the authority and teaching of the Pharisees. As the popularity of his teaching grew, the influence of the Pharisees over the Jewish community diminished. The man was, no doubt, a trouble maker and needed to be exposed as such.

One expert in the law asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law? How do you understand the question you just asked me?”

The expert 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.’”

Jesus was impressed. “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

The conversation should have ended there, but the lawyer just couldn’t help himself. Looking for a loophole he asked Jesus, “… and who is my neighbor?”

That’s when Jesus told him a story about neighbors:

‘A man (we assume a Jewish man) was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho and on the way he was assailed by robbers, beaten, stripped and left for dead. When a Jewish priest came by and saw the situation he passed by on the other side of the road, apparently not possessing the time or the compassion to come to the aid of one of his own. A Levite (these guys were set aside by God to serve the spiritual needs of the Jewish people; their nickname was “God’s gift to Israel”) crossed the road to avoid his beaten brother, doing as the priest had done. ‘God’s gift to Israel’ must not have been in a giving mood that day.

Then a Samaritan came by. Jews hated Samaritans. They considered Samaritans to be a half-breed, cultish mishmash of human leftovers; a miserable result of the last thousand year history of civil war and foreign conquest. The Samaritans, as you can imagine, weren’t very fond of the Jews either. So it was quite a surprise when a Samaritan happened by, saw the broken and naked Jew lying in the ditch, took pity on him, dressed his wounds, placed him on his mount and brought his to a place where he would be taken care of. The Samaritan paid for the man’s room and board and promised to cover any unpaid bills when he returned.’

“Who,” Jesus asked the lawyer, “do you think was this man’s neighbor?”

“Well … um … the one who had mercy on him, I guess.” The lawyer answered (he was stuck – what else could he say?).

“Go and do likewise.” Jesus replied.

With this story, Jesus blew the doors off the Pharisees’ concept of just who one’s neighbor might be. It wasn’t about just the neighborhood anymore; it was bigger than that. Even people who they thought it was perfectly permissible to hate up to this point could possibly be considered their neighbors. They’d have to tear up their current ‘neighbor/enemy’ lists and start again from scratch. This did not sit well with tradition.

But Jesus wasn’t finished with them …

Imagine the consternation of the Pharisees when Jesus completely reversed the ‘neighbor’ law by telling the crowds who came to listen to his teaching: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ….” (Matthew 5:43-44)

Not only was “love your enemies” contrary to what had been handed down to the people as ‘law’ by the Pharisees over the years, it flew in the face of ‘community management.’ Loving one’s enemies would create absolute chaos! Where would the boundary lines be drawn? From whence would the Pharisees draw their authority and influence in the community if those in their spiritual charge all of a sudden started loving theirs enemies!?

I’m guessing that’s when Jesus’ name was scratched off the Pharisees’ short list of ‘neighbors’ and added to their long list of ‘enemies’.

*****

So, why did Jesus need to redefine their (our) concept of ‘neighbor’ and teach them (us) to love their (our) enemies?

The difference between a love that covers just those closest to us (selfish) and those who love us (reactive) and a love that encompasses every person (whether or not we know them, whether or not they treat us well) lies in whose definition of love we’re using. Jesus wants our love for others to be defined solely under the terms of His love for others. He wants our love for our neighbor to reflect His love for our neighbor. Loving our neighbor is no longer about us – no longer dependent on whom we prefer or how we are treated. The sole reason for loving our neighbor is that He loves our neighbor. His definition of, “who is my neighbor,” becomes our definition.

From God’s perspective, holding our world, as it were, in the palm of His hand, it is easy to see who my neighbor is. Loving my neighbor as myself is really seeing my neighbor through God’s eyes and loving my neighbor as God loves me. It’s a love defined by a respect that comes from the fact my neighbor is loved by the Creator of the universe, and a mercy that comes from the mercy that He has demonstrated in loving me.

This love, this definition of ‘neighbor’ becomes our identity. It is how the rest of the world knows who we are and to Whom we belong.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)

*****

But what does, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” have to with success? That’s what I promised you right? Twelve weeks discovering twelve rules for a truly successful life?

I figured you’d ask that question. The answer? Everything. Let me explain … next week.

Until then, go explore your neighborhood.

Tags: love · Site News · success

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Lori // Jun 1, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Be careful or you may be considered a bit radical-thank you for being radical! Again, you hit the mark of truth and timing. Over the last year or two, your posts have been the biggest source of encouragement, truth, and inspiration to me. Thank you! This one is no different. A very close relative and I were eating at a restaurant recently, when all of the sudden the table next to us filled up with a Middle Eastern family. My very close relative who claims to be a “chrisitan” became instantly indignant and angry over this family. She was completely insulted that they have the freedom to work, live and play in our country knowing that they hate Americans and have a master plan to kill us all. The entire meal was a disaster as my close relative complained and stewed the entire time, ruining our fellowship and not to mention the dining scene which was sitting on a cliff over looking a beautiful lake. Meanwhile, the Middle Eastern family seemed to enjoy their dining experience. Whether my relative’s political view is true or not was not so much my concern. My concern was and is how she treated them being a “Christian” and all. At one point, the mother of the ME family was feeding her child and my relative said, “look, she’s feeding him and creating another monster” Can I just say how embarrassed and ashamed I was of my relative who is a “Chrisitan”. My point, which I later made, was that the political view may be true, but as a Christian, we have to view people differently and demonstrate such. That ME family was created in the image of God and God loves them just as much as He does me and my close relative. Also, the ME family may, just may be born again…who knows? And if they’re not, aren’t we suppose to witness to them about salvation? I don’t know, I just didn’t feel the love of Jesus at the whole scene. Pride…I think it would be fair to say that. Thank you again for writing…can’t wait for next week’s post.
    Lori

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