37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” - Matt 22:37-40 (ESV)
Jesus answers a Pharisee's question with both the traditional right answer and an answer that is surprising. The sum of the law and the prophets is the love of God with our entire being and the love of others with our entire identity. In other words, by our love and obedience of God we are identified with Him and so transcend every other relationship in order to treat others as God has treated us. This treatment does not nullify our experiences, loves, preferences or culture but rather shares the choicest portion of them with our neighbor. The follow up parable that Jesus tells to this (and a similar interaction brought on by the, "who is my neighbor," question of Luke's telling) is the parable of the good Samaritan. The parable is not, ultimately, about the Samaritan or the Israelite in the tale, but rather about mercy being freely given across a historical, cultural DMZ. The first people to whom Jesus goes when explaining who our neighbors are, are those people we daily recognize as completely distinct in every area possible. Those people we seek to drive as far away from us as we can, both physically and spiritually.
...by our love and obedience of God we are identified with Him and so transcend every other relationship in order to treat others as God has treated us. Love Your Neighbor
STRIPES & SPOTS For as long as there has been recorded history, and arguably before that, we have known that we have sought to distinguish ourselves from other people we perceive to be fundamentally different than ourselves. We look for signs of, "natural order," in the universe and organize ourselves into stripes and spots and everything in between. Mature, well-informed people are cognizant to the fact that not everything about who we are is up to our own personal preferences. Among many aspects of who we are, we are the color of our skin, our nationality, our neighborhood, our born religion, our neuro-status, and so on and so forth. These distinctions are both naturally occurring and determined by others. It is only in the particulars that we have some say in who we are as individuals and how we come across to others. Just as we have sought clear order in creation so too, we have struggled with those who do not fit so neatly in our Stripes and Spots categories.
THE SAMARITAN If the Israelites were stripes and the Gentile nations spots, then the Samaritans were dotted lines. Their ancestors were Israelites who had gone against the command of God and had married into the surrounding nations and formed a quasi-Israel right next door to the real deal. They worshiped God at Mt. Gerizim instead of on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and in many other ways differed from the approved people of God at the time. The Israelite nation thought so poorly of the Samaritans that they regularly travelled around where the Samaritans lived on their way to Jerusalem to worship--even at great inconvenience to themselves.
THE PARABLE So, here's the deal; Jesus tells a parable of these two men who, in their respective culture's eyes, could not have tried to be more different. But, by his own example, he says, that of all the Israelite men who passed by the wounded Israelite on their way to Jerusalem to worship God it was the Samaritan, who was likely on his way to Gerizim, who stopped and treated the Israelite as if he was a fellow Samaritan. In today's language we might say that he was treated, "humanely," but the second greatest commandment is not that we ought to treat one another as fellow humans (although that is commanded in the Word) the command is to love our neighbors as we love every aspect of ourselves. For the Samaritan, this meant loving the Israelite stranger who probably hated him but was thankfully unconscious enough to be treated to the full extent of Samaritan hospitality without issue. Notice that there is no mention of the internal workings of the Samaritan's mind. There is no mention of whether or not he loved himself enough to save this man's life but, when the opportunity presented itself, he did not for a moment pass by on the other side thinking, "someone else who loves themselves more will come along to help this man". In fact, it could be argued that those who had passed by on the other side loved themselves far more than the Samaritan loved himself. The Samaritan, like the Widow who gave her last mite, took what love he had for himself and gave it to God and, as a result, to the dying Israelite. The Samaritan sacrificed from his own pocket to ensure the Israelite's survival. This was no small amount as it earned the trust of the innkeeper who took the Samaritan's guarantee of shoring up the bill on his way back through. …the second greatest commandment is not that we ought to treat one another as fellow humans, although that is commanded in the Word, the command is to love our neighbors as we love every aspect of ourselves. Love Your Neighbor
DEFERENCE TO DIFFERENCE My neurotypical daughter posed a question to me one day at the breakfast table. In previous pop-up-conversations we had established that God had made Maya, her younger sister, with autism. Such conversations are often punctuated by a week of pondering before a question like this emerges. “Why did God make Maya autism?” It’s the kind of question that, if overthought, could be overexplained to a wondering, and frankly angry, 8-year-old but, at the time, I was given an utterance to say, “so that God could show us how much he loves people with autism”. This answer was sufficient for the time, and for my daughter, but, for those of us who claim a bit more maturity, let's ponder a theologically problematic question that applies to this situation. Am I more loved and blessed by God to have been born a straight, white, cis, male, neurotypical, able bodied American? The convergence of our privilege or lack of privilege according to the world’s (and our own) systems of gradation are not an indication of our level of love, blessing or approval from God and when we behave like it is, we behave as those who have not received mercy from God. We must show deference to our differences or risk, by our lives, claiming that God has shown us more favor due to some born difference between us. If we are not alert to this, we will begin to defend our differences and disobedience for not extending the reconciliation of the Father past our own noses.
PERSONAL & INTERPERSONAL RECONCILIATION Personal salvation loses its weight when abstracted from interpersonal reconciliation. In fact, we have to maintain an ambiguous an idea of God equals to that which we hold of those people committed to any other culture, religion or politic in order to maintain the original abstraction. We end up believing in a personal salvation that is possible without interpersonal reconciliation. The Bible says that this is an impossibility; that salvation is the result of reconciliation with God and that if we say that we have been reconciled to God but not each other we still walk in darkness and have not received the love or mercy of God.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. - 1 John 1:5-7 (ESV)
It should be noted that we proclaim reconciliation with the Father. We have received this same fellowship with Him but, specific fellowship with us--ourselves--is secondary. This allows for God to speak into ‘Gentile,’ cultures that are not our own through practices that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable for us to see because of our over ambiguous ideas about God. We think that because we have received mercy that something about our culture must have stuck out to God, that somehow, we needed less mercy than people coming from distinctly ‘unchristian,’ backgrounds. This is, of course, not the case. We have no such promises either as nations or people groups of such favor from God, and even the original people of God were told in no uncertain terms that God had not saved them for their own name’s sake but that His name would be glorified over the whole earth.
I cover this in detail in my article: The Unadulterated Gospel. I quote a relevant statement written in the same heart about presenting the Christ-plus-nothing gospel:
“The nothing else, that Paul seems to indicate, is that the unadulterated gospel is not a means to convert people to fill the pews and to bulk up our own names, ministries and denominations as a metric for obedience or success in ministry.”
THE UNADULTERATED GOSPEL, EVANGELISM As it pertains to loving our neighbors as ourselves, we put no cultural sign of circumcision on anyone that would lift our name, or culture or any other gradation above that of God and the same exact mercy we have both received. Therefore, Jesus’ definition of who our neighbors are, are those who are similarly situated in relation to Him; the Israelite and the Samaritan as prime examples of two people living in the land, worshiping the same God and regularly crossing paths. Interestingly, Jesus also speaks of this same mercy in relation to those we would consider to be our spiritual, cultural, political and moral enemies.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES It should be noted that nowhere in Scripture does anyone have to ask, “but Lord, who is my enemy?” (Anemone is a genus of flowering plants in the buttercup family).
Let’s check Strong’s definition of enemy. "GREEK: “Echthros”; properly, an enemy; someone openly hostile (at enmity), animated by deep-seated hatred. Implies irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a " personal " hatred bent on inflicting harm."(1)
Jesus’ example of the behavior of one acting as our enemy is one who uses violent coercion as a means to get what they want out of us; they threaten us by some means to take away our safety, legitimacy or provision as a means to achieve their own ends. Put this way, we can see how the taproot of all sin against God and other people is enmity first with God and then with one another. All glory to God, then, that the answer to sin is not that enmity should persist but that the mercy of the cross should put a permanent end to enmity between God and the world and turn enemies into neighbors. The failure to love our enemies is, I believe, the principal cause of our failure to love our neighbors. If there are certain people or ‘kinds,’ of people in our lives who we could not stomach to eventually call brother or sister then this is an indication that we love neither our enemies nor our neighbors but only those who are entirely like us, identify with us, and love us back, of which Jesus has this admonition:
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? - Matt 5:46-47 (ESV)
Don’t lose what Jesus is saying here. Our behavior when we are only in fellowship with those who are exactly like us to the exclusion of all others is exactly like the worst traitors among us and ultimately exactly like the unbelieving world. Instead, He calls us to emulate our Father in Heaven who, “rains on the righteous and the unrighteous,” and, in Luke’s telling, “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Lk 6:36 ESV
LOVE AS BELIEF IN PRACTICE One of the greatest sentiments of unbelief in this generation is, “yeah, but we have to live in the real world.” I cannot tell you how many times I have personally heard this as a defense for disobedience; for striking our enemies back, for artificially distinguishing ourselves and cloistering away from our neighbors. As a matter of testimony, I have heard it said that if a certain church leader started calling his congregation to begin reconciling his Protestant congregation to their Catholic neighbors, that half or more of the congregation would leave, never to return. A Senior Pastor and his Associate Pastor stood before me to say of active, intentional discipleship that, “that kind of thing might have worked in America but it won’t work here”. Yet another Elder in my presence testified of a missionary and his wife who came into their fellowship and began the work of discipleship among his small flock and were quickly sent away because his work in the gospel was offending long standing members who were threatening to leave. Another Pastor spoke plainly from the Pulpit saying, “we know that this is not how God has called us to gather, but what do we do”. Another man, not a stranger to the mission field, echoed this same sentiment saying about the clear functional value of the Word of God, “we have to live in the real world.” My friends, by living according to the ways of the real world, we have become the real world; pulpits and pews full of people who confess Christ with their lips and deny Him by their unwillingness to love their neighbors and enemies and even the whole world just as our Father does. Finally, I asked one of these men a simple question and received a simple answer. I asked, “why does this city need another church,” and he said to me, “it doesn’t,” to which I said, “I looked out across this city and the Spirit spoke to me and said of the plethora of churches that dot the landscape, ‘each one of these I started by my own hand and when they failed and became like the world, I spoke to another, and when they failed and stopped listening to me, I called another, and another and another, and now I have called you.’ It is not an impossible task, but it will remain looming while we put off the work of reconciliation which has been passed down to us from Jesus for lesser work. We have put little thought, desire, or action into seeking unity in love and extending reconciliation to the whole world.
JAMES 1 LIT TEST So, what do we do? James, the brother of Jesus, puts it in as clear a statement as any.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. - James 2:14-17 (ESV)
We say we love God, my friends--that we have faith in God. So let us show it by our love for our neighbors and our enemies with all of our new identity in Christ.
Jesus offers us the way to be reconciled to the Father, the truth as a standard and the life of the one lead by the Holy Spirit of God and it looks nothing like how the real world treats one another. He says about the end result of succeeding at being as one with God and one another as God is one with Himself:
23 Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. - John 17:23b (ESV)