Jesus was once asked the question, “…which is the greatest commandment in the law?” He answered with two commandments He felt were on equal footing. The first, of course: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second, he said, was “like it” or similar to it. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He said, “All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40, New International Version)
Why are these the most important? Can you narrow it down? I can, in one word: LOVE.
If you LOVE God as outlined in the first commandment–with all your heart, soul, mind–and if you LOVE your neighbor as yourself, won’t you be living out the rest of the law? If you truly love God, will you willingly break his commandments? If you love your neighbor, will you willfully hurt them? If you truly love yourself, will you purposely self-inflict pain?
We all know the answer to all of these can be Yes, we can. But in a perfect world, or perhaps if we ourselves are perfect (as Jesus was), we would not hurt the ones we love.
These scriptures also shine a light on another aspect of our beliefs. Who is our neighbor? Those who live on this planet, regardless of race, origin, nationality, personal beliefs…the list goes on.
Your redneck, hillbilly neighbor with the ancient fridge and washer on the front porch, the rusted-out cars sitting around the ill-kept property, and the noisy barking dog chained to a tree in the back…he’s your neighbor. Those scruffy construction workers who whistle and yell catcalls at you as you pass by their work site? Neighbors. The third cousin who shows up drunk at holiday dinners, also your neighbor.
In the days when Jesus walked and ministered throughout the region of Judea, there were the Samaritans, who were considered pond scum by most Hebrews. Each one thought the other one was right in their beliefs, and the rift between them was insurmountable. The Jewish believers avoided Samaritans. To illustrate this very passage of scripture (as told in Luke 10:25-37), Jesus told a story–a parable–about a man who was brutally attacked on the road and left for dead. A priest came along, saw the man lying there, and crossed to the opposite side of the road to get past him. A Levite came through next, but did as the priest had done. Finally, a Samaritan happened along. He took pity on the poor man, tended his wounds then transported him to the nearest inn, where he took care of him. The next day, he paid the innkeeper to look after the man and promised to return and reimburse him for any extra expense not covered.
Jesus asked his listeners which of these three was the good neighbor. The choice was easy. It wasn’t the priest or the Levite, both respected religious leaders of the Hebrew faith. It was the good ole boy neighbor from the wrong side of the tracks. It was the Samaritan who reflected God’s LOVE, went out of his way, delayed his journey, spent his own cash.
Jesus wasn’t glorifying Samaritans, he was saying that anyone, even the outcasts–the ones we look down upon–can show God’s love. Sometimes we’re surprised by the ones who do. Reaching out to someone in distress usually requires some sort of sacrifice. But everything you give up for the Kingdom of God will be returned to you at some point. Every sacrifice made from a pure heart shows your love not only for your neighbor, but for God, who created that other individual as well as you.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.–Matthew 5:16