Aww… Do I Have To?

I can imagine the disciples of Jesus saying that when he reminded them that the most important things God had ever said to them were: 1) love God with everything you’ve got, and 2) love your neighbor as you love yourself.

In fact, there’s that famous story of the young lawyer (what is it about lawyers?) who wanted to argue with Jesus about that and said, “But who is my neighbor?” So Jesus tells that story of the Syrian refugee who stops to help the white guy who got mugged. Well… it was really a Samaritan and a Jew in the original, but you have to translate because we don’t know what the heck a Samaritan is!

Or it could be a gay couple and a wedding caterer.

I don’t understand why this has gotten to be such an issue that we have to have legislation passed one way or the other. Look, folks, “love your neighbor” does not mean you have to like them, approve of them or endorse their lifestyle. But it does mean that your Lord expects you to act for their good, to treat them with respect and to deal with them as you find them, not as you wish them to be.

That goes both ways. Jesus expects me to love white supremacists and black lives matter activists equally. That sounds good in the abstract, but it’s really, really hard to do. My preferences and prejudices affect who I’d rather hang out with – or approve of.

I saw recently a reminder of something the Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, said about love: “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” He said if we only love what we wish them to be and not who they are at this moment, we do not really love them.

Maybe the bottom line question is whether we can trust God and stop trying to control people. Speaking just for myself – I don’t need to be protected from other people’s existence. God invites me to consider that my neighbor is – all of my neighbors are – another person made in God’s image whom I am called to love. When that prolific letter-writer, Paul, said look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others, he didn’t qualify the statement with “if you approve of them.”

Clearly, we have a lot to learn and a long way to go. But God is patient. And God is love. For that, I am eternally grateful.

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