Galatians 5:13-15 (VOICE) 13 Brothers and sisters, God has called you to freedom! Hear the call, and do not spoil this gift by using your liberty to engage in what your flesh desires; instead, use it to serve each other as Jesus taught through love. 14 For the whole law comes down to this one instruction: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” so 15 why all this vicious gnawing on each other? If you are not careful, you will find you’ve eaten each other alive!
How often do we make things more complicated than they need to be? Following God’s call on our lives is certainly not easy – but it is, at least in some ways, simple. The apostle Paul is often accused of too many run-on sentences and often hard-to-follow logic that renders some of his writing for us to easily grasp, but listen to him here: the whole law comes down to this one instruction: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
There isn’t a lot there that is hard or ambiguous, even so, he follows it up with a warning: stop biting at each other or you might get eaten alive. So if even Paul can make it simple and clear, we really shouldn’t have any excuse. Of course, we know that even before Paul writes these words, the waters have been muddied.
When Jesus proclaims this as the commandment that follows the most important one (Love God with all that you are and all that you have), he is immediately asked – who is my neighbor? Jesus, in a surprise to those first listeners, answers in the broadest possible terms, essentially saying that any in need, anywhere you can reach are our neighbors.
Because we have Jesus’ final word on the subject, I think we often take a different tact. We don’t ask who our neighbor is, we ask ‘which of our neighbors are deserving?’ Too often when we see someone in need, an wrong that needs righted, a wound that needs healing, our first question isn’t ‘what can I do to help?’ or ‘how can I love my neighbor in this situation?’
Instead, too often, we ask a different question, something like, ‘what did they do to deserve this?’ And we usually don’t ask that out of exasperation, but from a place of expectation. We assume that if we look hard enough, if we dig deep enough, we will find some reason that will allow us to believe that the person/people suffering are really only getting what they deserve. And if they are getting what they deserve, is it really any of our business to care, let alone actually do anything about it?
There is a clear logic to this. It makes sense, and it is likely to keep us safer and certainly it will cost us less (in all sorts of ways). This is smart and maybe even wise. What it isn’t, however, is the way of Jesus. What it isn’t is extending the love we desire for ourselves to our neighbors.
At the crux of this is what we might call ‘the benefit of the doubt’. We all know the places where we have fallen short of what was right or what was expected. We know, intimately, our faults, mistakes, and regrets. But we also know all the moments that led up to those mistakes and regrets, we know the explanations – not the excuses, but the circumstances. And even when there aren’t extenuating circumstances or a good explanation, all of us hope and pray, we all long for grace and forgiveness.
We live in a world where a person’s whole life can be defined by a split-second decision caught on video, or an ill-advised comment made on social media. I am, in any way, defending bad actions here (especially some of the ones we have seen recently). But what I am saying is that none of us wants to be judged by or seen as only our worst moment.
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we aren’t judged by our worst moments or our biggest mistakes. We aren’t even judged by our best qualities or finest moments. Instead, by the grace of God, we are justified, forgiven, and sanctified by the life, death, resurrection and faithfulness of our savior Jesus Christ.
This is the love that each of us longs for, that we all want for ourselves. And it is the love we are called to extend to our neighbors.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: Lord, help me to see others as I want to be seen – not defined by our mistakes, but justified and saved by your grace. Help us to truly love each our neighbors as we want to be loved. In your name and by the power of your Spirit. Amen.