Jesus’ call to love is so fundamental to the Christian faith we can feel its pulse as it echoes throughout Scripture and the salvation narrative. From the front cover to the back cover of the Bible, from the mouth of God, from the mouth of Jesus, from the mouths of people like John, Luke and Peter, who walked alongside and encountered Jesus, the message is the same.
These voices collectively echo God’s call to love – to love God, to love our neighbour, to love ourselves.
The way we currently use the word “neighbour” is to refer to someone who lives next door, someone who is in close proximity to us.
But the word neighbour meant something different when it was used in its original Hebrew. It had a much more expansive meaning than how we tend to currently define or interpret it. In its original Hebrew, the meaning or definition of the word neighbour simply meant “another person”.
So neighbour was generally a much broader term which included everyone ranging from a loved one to a treasured friend, to a mere acquaintance, to an adversary in law courts, to one’s enemy.
In Mark 12:28-31, when a learned man of the law asked Jesus what was the most important command, Jesus responded by stating the Jesus Creed, which was the command to love God and their neighbour, as they loved themselves.
Jesus’ answer was not merely a suggestion for how His followers might choose to behave.
He was not just suggesting it might be nice if His followers would try to love one another. Nor was He implying that it would be okay if we only loved some people, some of the time. Nor was He proposing that we could love people conditionally, dependant upon how they behaved.
Instead, when Jesus responded HIs answer was very clear. Simplifying things for us.
Calling us to love God with absolutely every fibre of our being and to love all of our neighbours. And He meant everyone.
Now here’s the thing. I totally understand that it is just as challenging for us today to love so expansively and inclusively, as when Jesus first uttered the command thousands of years ago.
Jesus’ call to love generously contradicts our selfish human tendencies and the current North American culture that tends to promote themes of self-reliance, self-interest, personal autonomy, and exclusion. All contributing to a profound and widespread sense of entitlement. Where there is a tendency to demand one’s fair share and efforts to protect what is “mine”.
These “me first” and “I have rights” attitudes are so pervasive that it is easy for any of us to be drawn into this kind of self-centered thinking. And we can easily overlook that as Christ followers we are called to a higher standard of inclusive love and compassion towards all others.
Brennan Manning writes in his book, The Signature of Jesus, “that never in Christian history has the name of Jesus been so frequently mentioned as in the 21st century-and yet – never has the actual content of His life and teaching been so frequently been ignored.”
Manning suggests that even though people talk more about Jesus today, it is not translating to actual Christ-like behaviours. Where we see Jesus’ love being lived out in acts of compassion and mercy and grace and kindness and forgiveness.
Manning’s observations are evidenced in the news and social media where we see people, who claim they are Christians, speak and act with indifference, intolerance, aggression and disrespect.
Where we witness disagreements and hostility over all kinds of topics – ranging from political to environmental to major theological issues – including whether or not we should be helping the refugee, the children or women caught in slavery, the starving, marginalized, disenfranchised, and those who are facing economic hardship and being persecuted for their faith.
And so it is really quite simple. Jesus commanded us to love.
And we are challenged to consider how we measure up to that call.
To self-assess. And to ask, “How are my behaviours and actions reflective of my statement of belief and Jesus’ call to love?” And, “how am I choosing to reach out and love my neighbour?”
Photo credit: Nina Strehl and Nate Bell, Unsplash
Five Minute Friday Weekly Prompt: Simplify