( a new weekly series in the Belfast Telegraph, alternating with Fr Martin Magill... this one was published on March 28, 2020... the photo they used is VERY old!)
“Love your neighbour”. Jesus best refrain. Sadly though it seems to me that these words have become quite sentimental and soft. They have ended up almost the epitome of nice!
Jesus never meant these words to be nice. They were never intended for a quote on a nice photograph of a sunrise on a Church Hall wall.
“Love your neighbour” is a revolutionary statement. A call to a sacrificial life. This is not just a call to help your elderly neighbour across the road. This is a call to deny yourself and take up your cross for the welfare of others.
Jesus talked about it in a plethora of ways. He talked about the love of a father to a rebellious son. He talked about loving not only your neighbour but your enemy too. He talked about loving the hungry, thirsty, stranger the naked, sick and imprisoned.
This call has been lost in a diluted view of Jesus that somewhere down the years has lost his radical edge. Reading the Gospels, it is hard to imagine how!
The original tough call of “Love your neighbour” comes in to its own in a world of Coronavirus. There has never been a time when it was more urgent to set aside our own whims and selfish desires for the good of neighbour and indeed the entire community.
This is a time in our history when “Love your neighbour” actually means DO NOT KILL YOUR NEIGHBOUR.
This is not so much about protecting yourself from the virus - though that is absolutely necessary. This is about making sure that we do not carry the virus into the presence of the most vulnerable. It is about all of us working together to contain the spread of the virus so that the health service has the capabilities to care for those of us who get it.
However, “Love your neighbour” is not just about the passive. “Love your neighbour” is an active force looking after the other. Let us make that phone call to someone who might be isolated. When we are at the store let us buy a few things for the elderly person next door. Let us be creative in ways that we can be a presence to people without being present. Let us volunteer at food banks. Let us donate to homeless charities. Let us be full of grace and imagination.
I have heard our political leaders talk a lot about altruism. That is good. Yet, I prefer Jesus’ “love your neighbour”. I prefer it because it has a communal relational heart. I prefer it because it because the guy who said it actually walked the walk. I am not sure I have watched too many of our political leaders giving up self for others! Quite the reverse.
Jesus on the other hand is ALL about reaching out to the other, giving to the other and, most sacrificially, dying for the other, even when the other was his enemy. Jesus didn’t just talk about love, he demonstrated it to us. Our most iconic image of him is at the very heart of human suffering, giving himself for the world. Now that is an example! That is love your neighbour.
Let’s do it!
Some Bible readings to think through Jesus example of Love your neighbour.
MARK 12: 28-31
Jesus gives the greatest commandment...
PHILIPPIANS 2: 5-8
Jesus example of self sacrifice
LUKE 6: 27-36
The extent of Jesus love exceeds our intuitive limits
MATTHEW 25: 31-46
The kind of people that are in God's radar for us to love
HEBREWS 4: 14-16
Jesus self sacrifice gives us access to the throne of God's grace - now!