“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Pretty simple, right? That’s what I teach my kids. In fact, that’s what I teach my kids when they are in the midst of conflict. And I know many other parents who do the same. But are we modeling that for them? Are we showing them that it’s really that easy? What if my neighbor has a different opinion than me? What if they are a different denomination than me? Or maybe even a different religious affiliation? What if they are different race than me? A different gender? The answer to those questions isn’t too hard for many of us. I’m sure most would say, “Of course I would love my neighbor even if they are any of those things. I mean, this is 2018!” Let’s make the stakes higher though. The love riskier. Ask yourself the following questions. Would you love your neighbor as yourself…
If your neighbor was a convicted felon?
If your neighbor took a knee during the national anthem?
If your neighbor stood during the national anthem?
If your neighbor had a confederate flag?
If your neighbor was an atheist?
If your neighbor was a conservative?
If your neighbor was a liberal?
If your neighbor was a different sexual orientation than you?
If your neighbor was a democrat?
If your neighbor was a republican?
If your neighbor was a gun owner?
If your neighbor was against gun ownership?
If your neighbor voted for Trump?
If your neighbor voted for Hillary?
If your neighbor has offended you?
If your neighbor has wronged you?
If your neighbor does not love you back?
That list is getting pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it? There are things on that list that I could argue with. Neighbors from which I would like to withhold my love and justify doing it all the while. The problem is, that simple statement – love your neighbor as yourself – is pretty clear and without any parameters. I can’t really argue with it. The part that gets me even more is the as yourself part. That’s the real conviction.
I believe God knew how binding that statement would be for us. In fact, that exact statement is mentioned eight times in the Bible and is one of the most reiterated commands in the Bible. To me, that statement is a foundational truth of life that God keeps trying to teach us, and that’s why it was repeated so often. And it’s not something God just told us in the Bible. It was something that God showed us through Jesus. The truth is, Jesus sacrificed himself for humanity. And honestly, whether you believe in Jesus or not, whether you believe he resurrected from the dead or not, and whether you believe he was the Son of God, his death and intentions were historically documented. That’s pretty powerful.
So, what does all this mean? It means we belong to each other. And God knew we would have a hard time understanding that and living that out. But Jesus’ blood, through the cross, covered us all equally. So that means God loves that neighbor who voted differently from you just as much as He loves you. And you know why? Because “…love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13: 10b).” Maybe that’s why it’s called the golden rule. Maybe love was always meant to be the currency.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
You know what the good news is about all of this? It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy of love. That decision was already made for us on the cross. But in my humble opinion that’s also the really hard news. I don’t want to love freely. Sometimes I want to put my head down, turn my eyes away, say the thing I want to say, ignore the need, make an excuse as to why I can’t “spend” my love currency right now. The cost is high and sometimes it feels as though the return is little to nothing. It’s really hard to love. And definitely hard to love someone as you love yourself. Because, let’s face it, have you told yourself you love you today? Sounds corny, right? But I’m not talking about the kind of love where you’re buying yourself something or you get a haircut or you take a day off or you allow yourself a “cheat meal”. I’m talking about the realization that you are a chosen child of God that is seen and precious and wanted and needed and has a purpose. Do you see that when you look in the mirror? Do you grasp the value you have on this planet? In this life?
Maybe that’s where we start. I start with me. You start with you. We start by realizing that we are enough for the blood of Christ. We start by realizing we do have enough to give as little as it may seem. That love works differently than any currency we know. It builds as we spend it. The interest increases not by saving it all up in one place where it never sees the light of day but by spending it with reckless abandon. One of my favorite quotes by Thomas Merton says this, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter how they vote. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter what they believe. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter who they hurt. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter what they own. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter who they are. And so are you.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Pretty simple, right?
Tori Conicello-Emery is a long-time member of Hope Community Church. She loves to engage in community, spiritual discussions, faith practices and is a dedicated member of the worship team at Hope.