On Loving Your Neighbor

Meditation on Luke 10

Here again we see Jesus sending out His disciples, to preach the kingdom, to heal the sick, to cast out demons. And He commands us again to cling to no earthly possessions or luxuries, but rather to rely on His provision and mercy. Even more strongly, He twice tells them to eat and drink whatever is put before them. This statement has multiple facets to it which we must pay heed. On the one, they are told to receive with gratitude whatever is placed before them, regardless of what it may be. Considering that many are those who embrace the faith and live with meager means, oftentimes the food which was offered to them would be poor and simple food. It’s this sense of receiving, with thanksgiving, whatever is given regardless of how offensive it may taste to you to begin with. Consider someone in our culture who is sent out and having spent his entire life living on buffets and fast food, now sent to a culture where he is offered lentil soup daily, because it is all the family can afford. If he were to reject that meal because it wasn’t “up to his standards,” how strongly would he offend the one for whom that very meal is a feast? It also serves to illustrate a second lesson that we must pay heed to. Remembering that many of the disciples came from a strong Jewish background, where there were many varied food restrictions, and many foods were considered unclean, it served the lesson that reception of their hospitality was of far greater importance than these dietary restrictions. Also, we know that the disciples, and even the Church today, recognized various seasons of fasting, including those of a twice weekly fast. But neither these dietary restrictions nor this fasting rule were to detract from the compassion of receiving their hospitality. Jesus tells us that “when we fast, we must do so as to not be seen by other men.” This is sort of a reiteration of that statement, where He is teaching that offending someone by placing the rule of fasting over their hospitality is to place the rule of fasting over the command to love our neighbor. Fasting is useful, it is necessary; it is commanded multiple times by Jesus Himself, however, it is never to be placed before the command to love your neighbor. Imagine a missionary who is received into the house of a poor family and they sell all they have to prepare a feast for the missionary who is come to teach them about Jesus, and he rejects the meal because it is a fasting day. Yes, fasting is useful and necessary, but the Law of God demands charity, compassion, mercy, gratitude and love.

Then we see an interesting image. The disciples return from their mission, and we see them rejoicing in the power that they have been given by Jesus over the demons and to heal the sick, this mighty power which they wield in His name. And He responds with the gravest of warnings. He warns them against being consumed with this power. He teaches them that Satan himself was once a mighty angel, wielding all of this power given to him from the Lord, but he became consumed by it, swollen with the pride that this power can bring, seeking glory for himself. See, it’s this warning that we must be careful with the gifts that God has given to us. We must remember that they have been given to us as tools with which we are able to help others. As they were casting out demons, their focus was on the power that they had over these mighty demons, instead of love for the ones that they were healing. Our thankfulness should never be for the ability to “stand out” that our gifts bring to us, but rather it should be for our opportunity to do the work of the kingdom, to bring joy and love into the lives of others. We should be thankful that our names are written in the book of life, and that until then we are able to serve others in whatever capacity it has been given to us. Riches, healing, teaching, whatever gift we have been given has been given to us for the purpose of serving others, not to seek after our own glory. Consider that our Lord has commanded us that our prayers, our almsgiving, our fasting; all of it be done in secret, so that none of it would be done out of the desire for recognition. I once read the statement that “feeding the poor is great, but the moment you take a photo of it and post it on social media, it’s no longer the poor you are feeding, but your own ego.”

Lastly, we see a lawyer who, quoting from the Law, proclaims that the greatest commands are, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” But then he challenges Jesus, asking, “and who is my neighbor?” And, we read this and it’s so easy to condemn him for making this statement, almost as easy as it is to overlook each time we do the same in our life. When we drive by a homeless man and cast judgment, presuming to know how and why he is homeless; when we see a drug addict and immediately judge them for their own struggles with their demons; when we declare that our nation should stop immigrants from entering into the country; every time we look at anyone with less compassion and love than we have for ourselves, we repeat this question in our heart, “who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells the story of a man who is robbed, stripped and bleeding, lying half-dead in the street. From a distance, it would be hard to tell exactly what had happened to him, it would be easy to think him a man who had drunkenly stumbled out to the street and fallen down. And a priest approaches, sees him lying there, and crosses to the other side of the street to avoid him. Soon, a Levite approaches, and likewise, crosses the street to avoid him. Finally, a Samaritan, a despised foreigner, sees him and goes over to help him. And Jesus asks the lawyer, “so, who was the better neighbor to this man?” The lawyer responds, not the priest, although he may have bypassed him and then gone and prayed for his soul; not the Levite, although he may have gone to the temple and offered a sacrifice on the man’s behalf; but the foreigner, the one who stopped and showed the mercy and compassion of God.

Jesus’ command to him, and to us, is to go and do likewise. See, as Christians, as followers of Christ, we have to remember the commands of the Lord. Forgiveness is not optional. When we bear a grudge against someone, we bear it against ourselves, who pray daily, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Mercy, compassion, love, these things are not optional. When we see someone in need, it is not optional to turn away from helping them, even if we go and pray for them afterwards. James tells us, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warm and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for their body, what does it profit them?” (James 2:15-16). This homeless man, this hungry man, this naked man; this is a man who has been made in the image of Christ, and it is not our place to look to their circumstances or to judge them; it is our place to help them, to love them. Chrysostom teaches us that “if you do not find Christ in the homeless man at the Church gate, neither shall you find Him in the chalice.”

We must remember that each of us was made in the image of Christ, each human being is an icon of Christ, and as Christ Himself tells us, “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.” Let us remember that, let us see this icon of Christ in each person, in any circumstance, and let us react accordingly, my brothers and sisters.

Christ is in our midst.

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