We turn now to living on the second level – our life with others.
Most of us don’t choose our neighbours. They were already there when we rented the apartment, or bought the house, on Third Street. We did not ask them for permission to move into their neighbourhood. This simple reality is a real test of humanity; and it is a test of faith, or faithfulness. The saying of Jesus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, though it has broader applications, does apply here. It applies significantly because of its immediacy, or “everydayness.”
The basic affirmation that all people are of equal worth is established and upheld by this word from Jesus. This commandment establishes a very fundamental value with wide implications and applications. It sets a norm for all human relationships and interactions. It implies simply but clearly that “ours is not better”; or more basically, that we are not better.
This relieves us of the pressure to keep showing how or why we are better. Proving a lie always takes a lot of effort. It allows us to take the energy saved there, and put it to use in the service of that neighbour.
The genius of this “second commandment” of Jesus lies in this that it shifts the attention away from self, to the other. Psychologists assure us that preoccupation with self is not conducive to mental health.
We have the gift of imagination from the Creator. With this gift we are able to put ourselves into our neighbour’s shoes, or to “walk in his moccasins”. This is a must if we are to see the other as a person like our self. This needs to be there before we can love our neighbour.
Unless this happens there is the danger of being condescending: “those poor people, how they need our love.” That is not the same as loving our neighbour as our self. Is this why a lot of social work, and so called “charity” and “welfare” in society, as well as “mission” done by the churches, is not very effective? Or, consider how we view those in whose eyes we are the poor; who are much wealthier than we. We may be tempted to think that they don’t need our love.
It is a critical question of values. Can we begin to grasp that the other, the neighbour, is as worthy of God’s love as we? It helps if we know ourselves loved by God, and it helps if we know ourselves as sinners. It helps if we remember that God’s love is not like a pie that has only so many pieces. If your neighbour comes to the table, your piece will not be diminished. Some bakery, some Baker!
Help us to learn that we cannot own You, nor hoard your love.