One could argue (and many have. Trust me) that the bible is filled with commandments, limitations, laws. Things that we are meant to do and not to do. In fact, when most people think of the bible and church, they’re sure that’s what it’s all about. Bible, with a capital B.
But Jesus, who is the very center of the bible, said that we have two commandments to fulfill. That’s it. Nothing more. All of the others only serve the purposes of demonstrating those two.
The first is what they referred to as the Shema: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. That’s darned important, but it isn’t the full story. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. The fascinating thing is Jesus made it pretty clear that these two commands are intricately connected. The second one is like the first.
To truly love our neighbors, we must be willing to look out for their own good as we would want to be looked out for. And with consumerism and a heartless economic system ravaging the world and most people in its wake, our neighbors are in more need than ever before to be looked out for. With the same economic policies supporting and being supported by the majority of American Christians (specifically, white Christians), it’s not enough to throw a coin at a beggar, or to do nice things for people that you find commonalities with, or to help out a suffering soulmate.
The stories in the bible deal with these two types of love and give examples and metaphors of how to love. But, after two thousand plus years, they could use a little contextualization. I’d like to humbly offer some today.
Here are fifteen ways to love our neighbors:
1) Get to know those who live close to us by getting involved in community events, by walking, by greeting people, taking off the earplugs, shopping locally.
Not just the ones who look like you, or talk like you, or listen to the same music or watch the same movies you do.
In fact, explicitly get to know those who do not look or talk like you, nor eat the same foods, listen to the same music, speak the same language, possess the same IQ, share the same cultural cues and values, or use the same verbiage.
2) Hop on the bus, Gus. Seriously. Get to know your area and those in it at the street level. Share rides and save gas and observe the neighborhoods.
3) Listen to other stories, share our own.
4) Humble ourselves before God and our neighbors on a constant basis.
5) Realize that although the neighbors we are getting to know are individuals, they and we are largely shaped by systems put in place to keep power and wealth concentrated at the top.
6) Be involved in community organizations – including and specifically in groups that may not look like ours. Come prepared to learn and listen. Somebody there has been doing this for decades, somebody else for generations. It’s good to absorb their wisdom; they’ve been struggling and striving for awhile.
7) Read and share history on various people groups.
8) Speak truth to the powers.
Be willing to live with a population for many years before we speak on behalf of – let alone make accusations against
Get involved in local politics
9) Share meals
10) No matter how well we get to know our neighbors, we must always remember that we cannot speak for them, and that it is best to partner with them. And that will take some years to develop such a relationship of trust and mutuality and solidarity.
11) Acknowledge that our neighborhoods (highlighted by the story of the Good Samaritan) -stretch far beyond any national or natural borders and include the homesteads of our “enemies.” “Terrorists,” Mexicans, Muslims, Communists, Atheists…
12) Renounce and protest war and the criminalization, destruction, and marginalization of entire people groups.
13) Be kind and gracious even when we don’t understand.
14) Serve alongside. Never over. Never above.