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“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

“to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4: 22-24

Finally, Brothers and Sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

Jesus Christ was unambiguous in His reply.  This question was being posed by, in the day and time when Jesus walked the earth, a learned man, a man considered wise and perhaps holy; a scribe.  This question came at the height of Jesus’s popularity during His time on earth.  He had come humbly but triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The crowds had cheered Him and the leadership had jeered Him.  The religious leadership had been peppering Jesus with question after question trying to trick or confuse Him.  Jesus confounded them at every turn. In Matthew it was an evil question meant to hopefully trap Jesus in some faulty answer.  In Mark the scribe asked the question to Jesus after hearing Him clearly outwit a gathering of religious leaders.  Either way, Jesus was and His message for us today is very clear. Which is the greatest commandment?

Now, for a moment, it might add some clarity to understand the scope of the question.  Was the scribe talking about which of the 10 Commandments, given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai?  Was the scribe asking concerning the greatest commandment of the roughly 613 commandments which were passed down, derived through the 10 Commandments? There were a tremendous amount of commandments to choose from.  Which one or two would Jesus choose?

Understand this, neither the question nor the answer were new.  Loving God with all that you have; heart, body, soul and mind was the first commandment that Moses gave to the people in Deuteronomy when the people of Israel thought they were about to cross over into the promised land.  Moses was explaining, how it was that they would be able to stay in the favor of God Almighty if they lived by these precious precepts and did not turn away from them or forget them. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, a man answered a question posed by Jesus by quoting these two same commandments.  The man went on to ask Jesus:  “Who is my neighbor?” , and Jesus proceeded to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.

They lived in a fractured world back in the time of Jesus’s walk on this earth.  Jew and gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, freeman and slave, Roman and the rest of the world; were only some of divisions which existed in the land of that time.

Now fast forward some 2020 years later.  Ho Boy, do we have divisions.  As this blog is read around the world, I would mention just some in my country; conservatives and liberals, migrants and native citizens, man and woman, gender specific and gender flexible, and..and…and. We have a lot of division in our country and our world.  So here’s the challenge; not so much that those differences exist, but the way we treat those who believe differently; as wrong, as evil, as hated, that drives differences into divisions, which destroys groups as small as families and as large as nations.

Notice, neither in the Old Testament or with Jesus, Himself, was it declared, you will love those who believe like you do, who look or act like you do or who vote like you do.  Jesus Christ makes it clear, both in His teaching and His living, talking with a Samaritan – a woman no less – or healing a Roman Centurion’s servant, that neighbor has a very broad and universal meeting.  A neighbor can be a person who has lived next to you for 30 years or a stranger standing next to you in a shopping line.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Jesus makes it clear, love; love toward our neighbor, whomever they might be should be our default position.  There is only one greater commandment; to Love our Heavenly Father. Why? The power of love.  As we love our neighbor, we’re not likely trying to harm them.  Our blood pressure or anger doesn’t go through the roof as we love our neighbor.  A loving neighbor carries no brick, no molatov cocktail, no semi-automatic weapon to use against their neighbor. Love is the Power of God.  Loving like Him allows us to share in that power.

Okay, okay, you say, then I’m going to go out and do it.  Today I’m going to start loving all my neighbors, just you wait.  In some cases it may be tough love, maybe, I’m going to be loving them while I smack some sense into them but I can do this, I’m going to love them.

If we’re going to have a shot at this at all, we have to understand a few things.  First to become this way takes a transformation.  The world and those of the world will never be able to find it within themselves to love thy neighbor as Jesus describes.  As Jesus explained to Nicodemus it takes being born again.  It takes taking off the old self and putting on the new self.  The only way to truly accomplish that is to be in Christ Jesus.

Abiding in Christ, experiencing Christ’s love and His power to change us allows us then, to exemplify Christ in our love for our neighbor. As written in Ephesians, only by putting on the whole armor of God can we combat the evil of this world to see clearly a better, more loving path forward.

Each day we’re likely to come in contact with many neighbors.  Some of those neighbors will be in person, some virtually.  Some will be neighbors we’ve known for decades, some will be strangers who cross our paths. Let us not look to world power; the power of distrusting and hating those neighbors who seem different, wanting for and maybe taking part in their destruction.  Instead let us embrace the Power of God Almighty and His second most important commandment to love that neighbor, even if the love is not returned.  Knowing that the Power of God and His love can never be defeated and by loving in Him we bring praise to His Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You are God and along, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, the only True God.  Thus You are right and just to have commandments.  We thank you Most Merciful Father that Your greatest commandments are to love; first You, then our neighbors as ourselves.  Forgive us when we neglect these commandments or try and narrow our definition of neighbor to exclude those we decide are not worth our love.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we might resist the worldly definition of love and neighbor to, instead accept Your definition and the power that goes along with that definition.  Allow us to be beacons of Your love to all our neighbors that we might be peacemakers and healers to this world and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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