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Why Love your Neighbor?

We love others because we love Jesus.

By Daniel Zachariah, National Director, India

When asked why she would pick up dying, homeless persons off the streets of Kolkatha, Mother Teresa was famously quoted as saying, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself; this is hungry Jesus; I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” Perhaps she was motivated by what Jesus said:

 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Jesus is very clear in his teachings with regards to the need to love neighbor. His apostles, especially John, builds on this and gives us further clarification. Challenged by a Pharisee as to which was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus’ reply is well known.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:38-40)

There are two important points in Jesus’ reply that one cannot afford to miss. The first point is that Jesus quotes from both Deuteronomy and Leviticus, but most notably, he combines the two passages in his reply. By saying, “the second is like it,” he is making an important connection between them. In other words, neither of them can stand alone. It takes both to satisfy the criteria of “great.” The second point is that Jesus declares that loving God and neighbor sums up the entire Law and Prophets. Love is the very essence that defines our obligation to and with God. Love is the DNA of the law! Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that love is the fulfilment of the law.

Echoing Jesus’ thoughts on love, notice how John not only weaves the theme of combining love for God with love for neighbor, but shows us both are necessary to be in relationship with God.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.… Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:7-8, 20-21).

For John, one cannot claim to love God if there is no attempt to manifest our love toward a brother or sister. Erwin McManus states, “When we live in an intimate relationship with God, we are able to love ourselves and become passionate about loving others. When we are disconnected from God, we find ourselves increasingly empty of love. Jesus, it seems, is certain that the more you love God, the more you will love people.”[1] Indeed, a life devoid of love toward others cannot represent a genuine relationship with God who, himself, is love and fashioned all of humanity in his own image.

When we claim to love God, we cannot close our hearts to others and be indifferent to them. We were created to thrive in a relational reality with God and with others, girded by love. We cannot have one without the other. As Christopher Witmer eloquently says, “If you break from love, your relationships will splinter and in the process, you’ll quit dancing with God. If ‘love thy neighbor, is the rhythm to God’s dance, anyone who doesn’t love their neighbor isn’t dancing with God.”[2]

So, why love our neighbor? That is the way we can truly say we love God whom we cannot physically see. Love for God and for neighbor has to be inclusive, as was Jesus’ reply to the Pharisee. Loving our neighbor completes the circle of God loving us and our returning that love. Loving our neighbor is allowing the love of God to flow into us and then out of us – it cannot remain blocked and still in us. When we allow ourselves to be a channel of God’s love, we experience the love of God more fully and holistically, which then enables us to know God more intimately. If we do not love our neighbor, then we will not be able to experience forgiveness, compassion, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness, which will ultimately rob us of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit. No wonder, Mother Teresa said that she is compelled to serving others because she loves Jesus! And this, indeed, is the entire “Law and the Prophets.”

[1] McManus, Erwin Raphael, Soul Cravings: An Exploration of the Human Spirit, Nashville, 2006 Thomas Nelson, 14
[2] Why “Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself” Is So Important to Christianity, https://www.therebelution.com/blog/2018/04/why-loving-your-neighbor-as-yourself-is-so-important-to-christianity/

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