Loving neighbors and dodging rocks

love your neighbor
Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31).

Shortly after moving in to our apartment in Cuzco, Peru to start a mission term, we set about getting to know our neighbors.  There we were, all nestled together at the back of a little court, brick and cement built up in tight quarters.  We were on the ground floor, and as a bonus, our apartment came with a tiny grass and garden space where our sons played.  It was our refuge from city’s diesel hurly-burly.

Our neighbors seemed like nice enough folks, and we made a habit of chatting with them.  We were on a mission, and our common courtyard was ground zero.  Jesus taught that after loving God, the second most important commandment is loving neighbor.  On it!  We neighbored with relish.  It was great.

Until the neighbors started dropping rocks on us.

You see, they wanted to add another floor onto their building, and since we were living cheek by jowl with them, the rocks and stones and wet cement rained down onto our smidgen of yard.  They smothered our plants.  They coated our awning with a screed of cement.  Our sons could no longer play in the back for fear of falling rocks.  It turns out that loving your neighbor is all fine and well until they drop rocks on your kids.

I’m struck that Jesus, quoting Leviticus 19:18, taught that his people are to love their neighbor.  He didn’t say love people generally or humanity generally or the world generally (as much as I’m confident Jesus does intend us to love people and humanity and the world).  Jesus said love your neighbor.  He meant our honest-to-goodness, flesh and blood neighbors.  Real people.  Our concrete neighbors.

The word “neighbor” invokes proximity.  Another time in the gospels when someone tried to loosen up his responsibilities to his neighbor by loosening up the meaning of neighbor, Jesus made clear that our neighbor is the one nearby, the one next door, the one we discover lying on the side of the road.

We forget this.  All too often, we prefer to obey Jesus in the abstract by loving people in the abstract.  But Jesus’ teaching is nothing if not immediate and practical.  He calls us to love real people who come with real quirks and personality prickles.  They don’t always think like us.  They voted for the other candidate.  They’re dropping rocks on our heads.  Those are the neighbors.  Loving real people like them is a bit harder than loving abstract people out there somewhere, people airbrushed by our imaginations.

We had to have a little talk with our neighbors in Cuzco.  They ended up bracing fabric guards around the outside of the house to catch (most) of the falling debris.  We hosed off our awning and played with the boys indoors.  We found a way to love our neighbors.  And we dodged the rocks.

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