Sunday, October 23, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor

"Which commandment in the law is the greatest?" (Matthew 22:36)

This is more than just a trick question that the Pharisees offer up to Jesus. We hear this question and immediately think that Jesus has to choose from among the 10 commandments given to Moses.  But the Pharisees really want to put Jesus to the test because their question goes much deeper.  You see, the Jews observed 613 commandments that are present in the first five books of the Bible and now Jesus had to choose the greatest of them.  Jesus simplifies things and doesn't make up any new commandment. Rather, he quotes two that are already present in the Scriptures.  When telling us to love God with all our strength, heart, and mind, he is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.   When he tells us that we must love our neighbor like ourselves, he quotes Leviticus 19:18.  So Jesus is not reinventing the wheel here, he is merely summarizing the whole law in one word:  love.  

There is a two fold dimension to this love:  love of God and love of neighbor.  One cannot exist without the other.  St. John speaks of this in his first letter when he says that we cannot love God, whom we can't see, if we don't love our neighbor who we do see (see 1 John 4:19).  So this begs the question:  do we love our neighbor?  I have another:  do we know our neighbor?  There are so many people around us that walk in and out of our lives like strangers.  We don't engage them.  We don't talk to them.  They are our coworkers, classmates, members of our family, and even the very people that we worship with every single Sunday who are currently sitting right next to you.  These are our neighbors that we are called to love.  Do we know them?

This morning as I was preaching to the children, I asked them who is their neighbor and why does Jesus tell us to love them.  One of them answered:  "because Jesus is present in everyone of us."  It's amazing how children can comprehend the mysteries of God's love even more than we can.  Yes, Jesus is present in the poor, the downtrodden, the alien, the imprisoned, and every single person that we find it difficult to see Jesus' face in.  Yet, we are called to love them nonetheless.  All it takes is a smile, an embrace, an act of love.  In fact, you might want to start with the person sitting next to you.