Across the Pastor’s Desk: Love your neighbor, though tough

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Josh Enderson

Joshua Enderson


When we think about all the statements that Jesus called on his followers to live out in their lives, I think that one stands out as the most difficult to do. It’s also one of the  commandments that Jesus singles out as the greatest of commandments: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hand all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

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Both can be tough to carry out in life, but the second commandment seems more difficult, especially when we dig a little deeper into its meaning. This commandment seems easy when our neighbor is someone that looks just like us, thinks like us and tends their yard like us. It’s easy to love someone who is almost identical to us. But it gets much harder when our neighbor doesn’t do things just like us. They may let their shrubs get a little out of control. They may put out political signs for an opposing party. They may look different from you.

Lately, our world has told us how we are to respond to such people. We are to wear our convictions on our sleeves and attack. A good citizen is one who denigrates their neighbor who isn’t just like them and lets the world know that they oppose them. We tell them they’re wrong, they’re a loser, they’re not good enough to earn our friendship. If we are people of faith, we may even throw a few Bible verses in there just to prove how right we are. And then we go back in the house and surround ourselves with Facebook posts or TV pundits that sound just like us, that seem to approve of our attack on our neighbor. Right, left, center: All are guilty right now.

Is that what Jesus meant with this commandment? Is he really saying: You shall love your neighbor that you agree with as yourself? That wouldn’t fit with the rest of Jesus’ mission in this world. Jesus reached out to all people in need and gave his love to all of those whom he encountered. Jesus is reminding us of a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a human being (especially in the light of faith). In Genesis 1 we read: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” All humanity, those like us and not like us, bear the image of God. All humanity deserves to be treated as we would like to be treated (Another teaching of Jesus).

In this time where civility has broken down, and where it seems like we don’t know how to live with one another anymore, keep that image in mind. Remember that your neighbor, who you may disagree with on many things, is a child of God. You can’t boil them down to their political views, or their gender, or even their religion. Because, at the core of us all is this declaration: We are all children of God, bearers of God’s image in the world. We need to learn how to disagree with one another, respectfully, and then figure out a way to move forward together.

We will disagree with one another. Humans have always done this. But, we have to keep in mind that the other person is also a human being, a fellow child of God, just like you. They are not the enemy, they are bearers of the image of God, just like you. Perhaps if we take Jesus’ words to heart today, we can help this world find a new and more productive way of living and working together.

Josh Enderson is an ELCA pastor at Hayward and Trondhjem Lutheran churches.