You shall love your neighbor as yourself (LNAY). Leviticus 19:18.
Funny thing about love, though. Can't do it anonymously. Try it. I defy you.
Other than God's instruction to care for creation, LNAY is the oldest and most continuous instruction in all of Judeo-Christian scripture. Jesus quoted Leviticus. Apostle Paul quoted Jesus and Leviticus. The concept has staying power.
I once used those words I frequently hear: "I minister to the homeless, the low-income, the mentally ill in downtown Portland." Then someone helped me hear and see my words., especially that preposition "to". Implies a one-way street, doesn't it? They need it. I have it. I give it to them. Or I do it to them. Very up/down. So very have/have-not. Ouch!
I learned instead to use the preposition "with". I minister with. . . the (fill in the blank). Better. More equal... Right? Not really. The problem has simply migrated.
Why do we talk about the homeless, the mentally ill, the low-income, the drug-addicted, the poor and needy (saw that in a church bulletin yesterday), the_________________? Fill in the blank?
Labels lump everyone into a single category, the implication often being a category of person unlike me. Putting the in front of the category might only add three letters. It also adds a distance of a thousand miles. I can't love someone so remote from me. Heck, I can't even love my back yard neighbor 30 feet outside my window unless I actually get to know my neighbor.
But when I do, everything changes. Now my neighbor becomes a real human being to me. When I know who my neighbor is; when I know my neighbor's story, my neighbor's identity and my neighbor's name, I know more than my neighbor's category or a convenient label. In fact, I find that labels don't even fit. They only get in the way.
When I know my neighbor and have a relationship with a unique human being, then and only then can I begin to love my neighbor.
But first I must begin to know and love myself. Otherwise, how can I present a whole and unique human being back to my neighbor? We are in this together. Now love can finally grow. Not before.
Without knowing my neighbor I can be compassionate, helpful, even kind. I can also stand in judgment of my neighbor quite conveniently from the perch of not knowing, from behind the fortress of a label. In fact, judgment practically demands some kind of separation.
Jesus wasn't real big on judgment. Neither was Paul a'la Romans 2.
Without knowing, I can judge but I cannot love. You try it. I defy you. I am called to love. So are you. We are not called to like our neighbors; aren't called to dislike 'em either. We are called to love. Loving and liking are vastly different things, not simply two shades of the same color.
Maybe ol' God knew what God was talking about way back when. Maybe God still does.
After 62 years of not getting it very right on this planet, maybe at last my understanding has cracked open. We will never make progress, I am firmly convinced, on anything we see as a problem in society until we stop seeing problems and start seeing people. Name any problem you want: homelessness, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, gangs, sexual abuse, mentall illness, poverty, substance abuse, illiteracy, immigration, terrorism, global warming, hunger--or our newest god, the economy. We get nowhere until we start seeing and knowing people dissolved of their labels.
Only then can we love. Only then can the Spirit of Christ live among us and come to us through each other.
What? Did we think economic growth would somehow fix all problems including other people? Really? Has economic growth ever fixed us? Hasn't economic growth caused a whole hell of a lot of the problems we fixate on now?
When God told us to love our neighbors, God was really telling us to get to know our neighbors, not Princess Di or some starlet or hunk on American Idol. Maybe ol' God knew what God was talking about way back when. Maybe God still does.
LNAY even works with enemies, not just strangers or neighbors we don't know.
P.S. Lev. 19:18 is one glove. It has a mate: Lev. 19:33-34. It might be nice to stop using Leviticus as an ammunition dump that fuels holy war. Instead, may we see there the fingerprints of God pointing us to Christ: LNAY.