Love Thy Neighbor

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

— Matthew 22:39

A man must not choose his neighbor; he must take the neighbor that God sends him. In him, whoever he be, lies, hidden or revealed, a beautiful brother. The neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you in contact. Thus will love spread in wider and stronger pulses till the whole human race will be to the man sacredly lovely. Drink-debased, vice-defeatured, pride-puffed, they will yet be brothers, yet be sisters, yet be God-born neighbors. Any rough-hewn semblance of humanity will at length be enough to move the man to reverence and affection. It is harder for some to learn this than for others. There are whose first impulse is ever to repel and not to receive. But learn they must. Even these may grow in this grace until a countenance unknown will awake in them a yearning of affection rising to pain, because there is for it no expression, and they can only give the man to God and be still.

And now will come in all the arguments out of which the man tried in vain before to build a stair up to the sunny heights of love. “Ah brother! Thou hast a soul like mine,” he will say. “Thou art oppressed with thy sorrows, uplifted with thy joys. Perhaps thou knowest not so well as I, that a region of gladness surrounds all thy grief, of light all thy darkness. Oh, my brother! I will love thee. I cannot come very near thee: I will love thee the more! Thou art not me; thou art another life—a second self; therefore I can, and will love thee.” 


by James House

Once again, my commentary on today's reading is something of a preaching to myself, of what I know to be true, but of which I need constant reminders of, in order to have it kept on the fore of my weak mind.

God's creations abound in beauty, due in significant part to the fact that virtually no two things he created are identical.  No two maple leafs, no two maple trees, no two sparrows, no two mountains, no two worlds, no two stars.  The nuances and distinctions - the individualities - bring beauty, and are a mark of God's love and thought for the individual creation.

George MacDonald frequently mused on this fact in his writing. In both The Warlock o' Glen Warlock and The Seaboard Parish, he muses on this truth as applied to sunsets:

"God, having made a sunset, lets it pass, and makes such a sunset no more."

"We shall never, never, never, see the same sunset again."

"That is true. But why should we? God does not care to do the same thing over again. When it is once done, it is done, and he goes on doing something new. For, to all eternity, he never will have done showing himself by new, fresh things. It would be a loss to do the same thing again."   

Of course it is no surprise to us that other people are much different from us - and we often take much joy in that fact.  Yet if you are like me, you may also sometimes find annoyance at, repulsion of, or even fear of some of those differences.

In particular, as we look upon our neighbors - our Brothers and Sisters, we often struggle to see the beautiful distinctions that God has marked them with, due to the overwhelming judgements we pronounce upon the distinctions with which the fallen world has marked them.  

We need to look for and recognize the good in others - and assist God in drawing it out.  We must strive to see people as God sees them.  We must look past the overt appearance of them, and see what they can become, what they can set aside.   By placing in our minds a vision of them in a different (more pleasant) situation or with a different set of needs, we can better see them for the child of God that they are.  It is our duty, as their neighbor, to help them find (or create) that better situation, or move on to a different set of needs.

We need to overlook faults - remembering that we are prone to seeing motes for beams, and beams for motes.  

We need to help people feel worthwhile, needed, valued.  And as we do so, their divine distinctions will rise to the surface - putting into exercise the gifts God made them with - putting more of God's love into action.

We need to continually practice the virtues of our Lord: patience, humility, kindness, service, forgiveness, healing, love.   In Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood, Mr. Walton is a regular example of virtuous interactions with his neighbors:

"If instead of a gem, or even of a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving, as the angels, I suppose, must give."

"as for taking offence, I don’t like it, and therefore I never take it"

"to make a mountain of a molehill would be to put that very mountain between him and me."

"Still, if I must be honest, which I hope I must, I confess..."

"what it would be actually to annihilate wrong in this way!—to be able to say, it shall not be wrong against me, so utterly do I forgive it! How much sooner, then, would the wrong-doer repent, and get rid of the wrong from his side also!"

"I cannot imagine a much greater misfortune for a man, not to say a clergyman, than not to know, or knowing, not to minister to any of the poor."

As we accept Christ's invitation to come unto Him - to practice more of his loving, charitable virtues - we will become more perfected in Him. By expressing His love to our neighbors, we too will find our love for our neighbors.