Loving Your Neighbor: Easier Said than Done
By Rev. Renita Green, Contributing Writer
Advent was especially difficult for me this year as it was a season of confessing and repenting. Although it is shameful to admit, the truth is that I haven’t been so loving these days.
I talk about loving your neighbor with conviction, clarity, and compassion. I say that our neighbor is the one who is outcast and dejected by mainstream society due to gender, ethnicity, economics, education, social status, and so forth. Somehow in all of my rebuking and chastising others for being disconnected, lacking compassion, not seeing or being Christ, I have been guilty of the sins I rebuked.
Sigh—I have been riding on a high horse from which the Spirit has called me down. My soul has been so tired lately. I have felt uninspired and unmotivated in uncommon ways. Though I have tried to write, no words would come. It has felt like my preaching was empty. My study of the scripture has seemed so disconnected and foreign.
It all makes sense—how can one write or speak about a God whom she does not know? To say that I do not know God seems a bit harsh. Nonetheless, it is true. God is love; and those who do not love, do not know God. I know this passage. Now I know it even deeper. I know God deeper.
In seeking the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Messiah who was, who is, and is to come, I discovered that I have willfully and sanctimoniously resented those who I believed rejected others. I have become that which I abhorred.
Loving my neighbor means that I have the mission to believe that God loves the oppressor as much as the oppressed. Loving my neighbor means I do not get to determine who is an oppressor based on their gender, ethnicity, economics, education, social status, and so forth.
Loving my neighbor means that I do not have to make people see what I see, feel what I feel, believe what I believe, or know what I know. It means I confess that I might not see everything so clearly, feelings are subjective, and knowledge is limited. It means I am willing to learn together.
Somewhere along this journey of “doing justice,” I have forgotten to “love mercy.” Mercy pleads for the soul of humanity—all of humanity without regard. Mercy fights against systems of oppression for the sake of the oppressed and oppressor alike. I have lost sight of mercy and therefore have been unable to “walk humbly” with our God. Humility is required to receive grace. Loving my neighbor means that I extend the grace I covet.
The work of justice can be all-consuming. Being constantly exposed to one story after another of pain morphs the spirit. It can make you become something that you are not and that is precisely how evil wins.
I am reminded of the scripture in Romans 12:21 that says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Doing good is not enough; however, we must be good to overcome evil. Goodness must consume our being. Goodness must direct our path, thoughts, and motives. We must seek to do good and not harm—for every human. This is the essence of love. If we only love those who love us what have we accomplished? Even sinners do that.
Love is a state of being more so than a list of behaviors. The scripture says to be patient and kind, not to act, a subtle but distinct difference. Loving our neighbors is easier said than done. I confess I have not loved my neighbors.
I choose love. Hate (disgust, repulsion, angst) is too heavy a burden to bear. Being love is the challenge. Love never fails is the promise.