Contend Earnestly: Contextualizing Loving Your Neighbor for Seattleites

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Contextualizing Loving Your Neighbor for Seattleites

The infamous passage in the Bible where Jesus speaks about loving our neighbor as ourselves, you know, the good Samaritan story, is one that I think needs some retooling for my place in this world. I am not a pro on all cultures in the world or even in the United States, but one I know very well is my neighborhood and the surrounding areas of Seattle. This is my joint. This is my culture. I used to live in Oklahoma, which has a lot of the same culture of the South and so I know that a lot of people from that area might see this post as a waste of time for them...which is cool. But, I want to really reexamine the Good Samaritan story that Jesus told to the Jews to destroy their paradigm on loving neighbor.

The first time we see this command to love neighbor, comes in Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

You can actually see why the people would be a little confused if they only read this verse and didn't understand that God truly loved all people. Because in this verse it seems to convey the understanding that the "sons of your people" is equated with "neighbor." So, the Jews had always lived, or tried to live, in a way to where they literally loved their own neighbor in proximity and blood line. Outside of that, there was no reason to show love, because that wasn't the command as they read it in Leviticus 19.

What we know about Jesus is that, not only was he the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Sent One, but part of this mission was to destroy the Jews' paradigm of outward actions gains righteousness. The Jews believed that as long as they played by the rules, they would earn the reward. Not only did Jesus destroy this paradigm by actually re-pointing out what God actually had been saying for all of history, but he started to show the worldwide vision of God in redeeming all tribes and peoples.

So, when Jesus comes to show who neighbor is to the lawyer who asked in Luke 10:25-37, he destroys this man's paradigm of neighbor. For the lawyer, if he was a good Jew, he would know that Samaritans were Israeli half breeds, God's damned people and would have so much distaste for them that he would literally walk around Samaria on his journeys to and from Jerusalem. But, in the end of the story, this same lawyer's paradigm was squashed as he was forced to say (you can see his deep racism as he still won't say 'the Samaritan' when answering Jesus) that the one who showed mercy was this man's neighbor. Jesus was getting the Jews to think bigger and more vast. He was awakening them to the facts that God's family was about to be joined up by the Gentiles into the fold.

But, what about today? What has happened today in Seattle? What I have noticed as I look more and more in my life and also in the Christian culture as a whole, we seem to have reversed what the Jews used to do. Instead of us only caring about those directly beside us in our neighborhoods, we show more love and compassion for those "out there" than those who take their garbage out to the curb right next to us. We are willing to go overseas, serve the homeless, give money to poor kids in Africa, take short term mission trips, etc. etc. Now, hear me...I am NOT saying these things are bad nor are they to be put aside. But, what about our neighbors? What about those that live in our actual communities? How are we loving them as we love ourselves?

There are many reasons why people hate Christians, but most of them have to do with us being hypocrites. I am not saying that we are going to be able to be sinless, but what I am saying is: I wonder if we could at least change the understanding of what it looks like to follow Jesus if we were to actually love our neighbors instead of just smiling like a circus clown and waving at them as we get in our cars to drive off to the next ministry...

What if, instead of being so involved with programs at church, we understand that we are the church and our whole life is to be a life of worship of God and loving our neighbors? Isn't this what Jesus said?

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:29-31

And are we making this too difficult by all these programs at church that take us out of our neighborhoods? Jesus told us to "Go and make disciples" which means, "as you go..." It gives this idea that as you live your life, as you do those things that God has called you to do, like work, family, fun, hobbies, on your way to work and make disciples. I think we have made this too hard, when that wasn't the point. Jesus wants us to live with Gospel intentionality as we live our lives daily instead of trying to figure out what program we are going sign up for at church so that we can feel good about ourselves.

It seems like we sometimes make the same mistake that the Pharisees did by putting all these rules and regulations of what it looks like to be sanctified. What if instead we believed what Jesus said

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:30

Not only does this verse speak of salvation by grace, but it also speaks deeply against sanctification of works righteousness.

Maybe we should correct ourselves in trying to live for programs, instead of living for Jesus and loving our actual neighbors. Maybe we should seek out how we can live intentionally every day with those around us. Maybe we should listen to Jesus and "Go, therefore"

Just sayin'...


Dan Allen said...

Hey there, I stumbled across your blog, and I found this post dead on! I live in Maine and we don't talk to our neighbors, at least not in my neighborhood. My wife and I have been really trying to meet and get to know the people around us and it has been a real struggle. An interesting thing is that some of the people from the "church" we have visited live on our road. They love to chat with us on Sunday mornings, but act like they don't even know us when we see them around the neighborhood. Very strange!


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