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It is when we have the most cause to hate and reject our neighbors that we most need to remember the command to love them. Yes, my fellow Christians, it is a command and not merely an invitation. Though no challenge could be so difficult to fulfill, it is the foundation rather than the pinnacle of Christian love. It is a challenge not reserved only for the holiest saints but rather put to every one of us. Our Lord and Creator doesn’t even stop there. “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
A philosophy professor and friend once caught me off guard by claiming that the Golden Rule is nothing special. Any person raised in a good home knows not to mistreat others as oneself doesn’t want to be abused.
But that is not Christ’s teaching. He doesn’t merely advise us to avoid mistreating others. Nor does He advocate a “live and let live” philosophy by which we may comfortably ignore our neighbors (though free will is an important pillar of Christian theology). We are called to actively, attentively, love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.
Typically, that is more than one loves anybody else. Even if you have a spouse or child to whom you are utterly devoted, there are times when that person asks for help and your first thought is “But I’m tired / I’m hungry / I’m in the middle of something / I don’t have enough to share.” Sometimes a person dear to you could use a smile, but you grimace or yawn. To love that person requires surrendering something of yourself. The selfish impulse must be fought again and again, every day, every hour.
Have you ever tried to love a stranger that much? Have you ever tried to love a jerk that much? Have you tried to love an enemy that much?
Here again, having experienced a loving family helps. You’re stuck with them. Sometimes family drives you nuts and take every ounce of energy from you. But they are family, forever. They are your gift, your duty, your life.
If one doesn’t learn unconditional love in family, one might never learn. It’s glorious. It will drain you dry, then overflow with blessings. Sometimes it breaks your heart. But a bond that cannot be broken is never without hope.
Parents of wayward children never stop hoping, never stop trying to teach and to reconcile. Though hurt deeply and often, a loving parent endlessly waits for the prodigal child to return home. Such love doesn’t just forgive and forget. Such love is eager to be peacefully together again. No sacrifice is too great for an honest and loveful reunion.
That is the challenge: to love eagerly, with one’s whole heart, with all one’s energy, with endless hope and endless charity, with joy and thanks. To love thy neighor as thy self.
We are condemned by the Law, but saved by the Resurrection. That means not one of us is worthy to live in God’s house, yet many have been invited anyway and Jesus has paid our price.
That is the love a Christian owes every fellow human being. They don’t need to earn our love. They may reject it, like we so often reject God’s ways. Love them anyway. Love them all.
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. —John 13: 34
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. —1 John 4: 20
It is hard. It is exhausting. It is life ever-lasting.
As a wise child once said, “God bless us, everyone.”Published in