We don’t mean to be so selfish – it just seems to happen. It’s just the default undertow of our daily experience pulling us ever toward the life we desire most. Which is why it takes a concerted effort to not find ourselves at the center of our own universe . . . and allow ourselves to feel the gravity of others in our orbit – so that we might be pulled into a better appreciation of their daily experience. I suppose this is why Jesus describes, loving our neighbors as ourselves, as a commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) – because if it were left up to us . . . we probably wouldn’t do it.
1 John 4:20, 21 seems to be underscoring the symbiotic nature of the two commandments Jesus declares in Matthew 22:40 as being the foundation of which the Law and the Prophets is built upon – that our love of God is inextricably tied to our love of our neighbor. Such a framing leaves no room for any high-minded spiritualized love of God that doesn’t involve some measure of our loving engagement of our neighbor. So that in the same way that loving God isn’t merely a Christian ideal we aspire to — loving our neighbor must be pursued as an essential discipline of our Christian faith.
Loving our family members may, or may not, be filled with obstacles and land mines – but it still remains the most conspicuous place to begin . . . as this is supposed to be the place where the patterns and practices of love are meant to mature. Loving friends is likely the easiest, as these are people we’ve chosen to be around, while loving work acquaintances may present many unique challenges to be worked through. But the real testing ground for our faith inspired love, is found when we are willing to love someone who offers us absolutely no relational advantage . . . those in great impoverishment of body and soul.
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells a story with a particular sense of symmetry. It is a story describing, how in life, a chasm was created by a rich man — between the selfish indifference of his affluence, and the conspicuous suffering of a beggar at his gate, named Lazarus . . . and, how in death, this chasm created by the rich man, remained as a monument to the love he had in abundance for himself . . . but had none for his neighbor. And just in case, you misunderstood Jesus’s point here, the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is there to remind us of who is our neighbor.
I do not pretend there’s a simple answer to how we best deal with Lazarus at our gate, but I know this — it can’t involve an answer that allows a chasm to grow between the love we say we have for God and the love God expects us to demonstrate to others. Because the love God shows us isn’t meant to pool up and grow stagnate, it’s meant to flow through us. So we do well to remember — our faith calls us to be the hands and feet of the gospel, so that the love of God might always be on full display in both our words and deeds . . . especially, to the least of these (Matthew 25:45).
It is the little things done with great love