Love Your Neighbor
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - November 4, 2018 - 12:00am

A college student cramming for the final exams devised a system so that he could easily recall the contents of a whole book he was supposed to master. He exerted much effort to summarize the whole book into one chapter. Then he worked harder to summarize the whole chapter into one page. 

 

With a little more effort, he was able to summarize the page into one paragraph. And burning his midnight oil, he was able to summarize the paragraph into one sentence. And with the last burst of energy succeeded in putting the whole sentence into one word.

The next day he came to the exam room so tired out, he couldn’t remember the word!

During the time of Jesus, there were two currents among the rabbinic schools. One current was to multiply and expand the laws into limitless regulations so as to cover all possible situations in life. The other current was to gather and sum up all the laws and regulations into one general statement, which would contain the whole message. 

The rabbi Hillel was once asked by a disciple to instruct him in the whole law while he stood on one leg. Hillel’s answer was “What thou hatest for thyself, do not to thy neighbor. This is the whole law. The rest is commentary. Go and learn.”

It is probably with this kind of spirit that one of the scribes came to Jesus with the question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Jesus replied: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God is Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

That answer would have satisfied the scribe. For this command comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear O Israel! The Lord is your God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words, which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.”                      

This commandment of the Hebrew Scripture hangs ever before the eyes of Israel: “Love God above all else.”

However, Jesus connects a little known ethical injunction to this great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor [fellow Israelites] as yourself.”(Lev.19:18).

Jesus puts the two commandments together and makes them one.  Religion to him is loving God and loving neighbor. It is as if he were saying that the only way in which a person can love God is to love his neighbors.

And Jesus reminds the Jews that “neighbor” is not just fellow Jews. Neighbor is not defined by race or religion as commonly practiced by the Jews in the time of Jesus. 

The Book of Leviticus 19:23 states, “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself. For you, too, were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.”

A neighbor is a person in need. That’s the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who fell among robbers was hurting. He needed help, someone to bind his wounds.

The Samaritan simply did what any Jew was bound to do. He “was moved to pity” by a man who was hurt and he responded with compassion. That Samaritan had no liking for Jews was beside the point; a human being was in need. To respond to that need is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Jesus took the love of neighbor a step further beyond the traditional understanding of the Jews.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, “You have heard [the traditional teaching] ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

And at the Last Supper Jesus commands: “Love one another as I have loved you.” No longer “Love others as you love yourself.” No, “love the way I have loved you.” And how is that?  For love of us, he became one of us. 

He experienced all our human conditions (except sin). He was hungry like us, felt cold like us.  He learned to think and talk and walk like us. He worked as a humble village carpenter. 

He taught us a Father’s forgiving love. He felt compassion for the sick and abandoned. He suffered rejection and the most cruel torture. And he died a criminal’s death on the cross for us. 

He was born to die – for love of us. A love that identified with us, a love that forgave us, a love that was crucified for us.

This brings us to the commands to love for you and me in this church. The command to love God and neighbor is not just pious suggestion for us to consider, something that we can leisurely discuss over a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer. 

No, my brothers and sisters, here is Christianity at its most critical point.  Of these two commandments Jesus promised, “Do this and you shall live.” Put these commands into practice and you share God’s life now and forever. 

To put it in another way: Disregard these commandments and you’re dead.

The problem is, how can you realistically give your whole heart and soul and mind and strength to a God you’ve never seen? For your consolation, countless people have done it, millions of mortals all over the world; most of them did not have a college education, and knew less about God than you do.

Precisely here is the heart of the matter: You can know about God without knowing God. Many a philosopher and theologian know about God – God exists, God is good, God is infinite, God rewards good and punishes evil. But that does not guarantee that they will love God.

How then do you ever get to know God? One sure way is to experience God, not necessarily, nor usually, with visions or voices. I mean simply that a living loving God can and does make His presence felt, can and does speak to you in the silence of your soul, can and does warm and thrill you till you no longer doubt that He is near, that he is here.

Such experience you cannot force from God; He gives it freely. He does give it, has given it to countless people. In fact, there is no one to whom God refuses it. But you have to ask… and ask… And you know, in the very asking you are already loving.

Next, act!  Besides asking, act. If you want to love God, love God’s image, love the men and women whom you meet every day those who have just lost a loved one, those in the waiting line at the charity clinic, those wounded soldiers at the Veterans’ Hospital, who either have no relatives or whose relatives are too far away to come and visit; those in the home of the aged, those in prison, those poor families that can no longer afford three meals a day – the poor families who share one or two packs of instant noodles because of the increasing number of unemployment. 

The list can go on and on. They are the people in need not just for material and financial help, but for love and caring and faith. You meet them every day. Does your love reach out to them?

Let’s end with a song by Carey Landry, which says:

“I sought my soul,

But my soul I could not see.

I sought my God,

But my God eluded me.

I sought my brother,

And I found all three.”

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