loving neighbor problem

The Problem With Loving My Neighbor

Beth Demme Blog Leave a Comment

I’ve thought about this a lot and I think I can sum up the problem with loving my neighbor in one word: ME. I love my neighbor really well as long as it isn’t too hard or too expensive or … too inconvenient.

I love my neighbor as long as it works for ME.

Loving my neighbor would be a lot easier if I could pick and choose who to exclude.

Of course, the Bible has plenty to say on this topic. And, of course, there is no biblical basis for rejecting others for the sake of convenience.

In Mark 12, a scribe asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answers, “The first is [the Shema] ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus says, “you SHALL love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s not a suggestion. It’s a directive.

Loving my neighbor is not something I can do only when it’s easy or cheap or convenient. It’s something I need to do always and everywhere.

This is radical, right?

Psalm 146 gives us a glimpse at what loving our neighbor looks like. It says that God:

  • executes judgment in favor of the oppressed,
  • gives food to the hungry,
  • sets the prisoners free,
  • opens the eyes of the blind, and
  • lifts up those who are bowed down.

Psalm 146 says God “watches over the strangers, upholds the orphan and the widow.”

This is how God loves others. How do I do it?

Do I join God in seeking help for the oppressed or watching over those who are strangers? The Psalm says God upholds the orphan and the widow. Do I?

THE widow story of the Bible is surely the story of Ruth.

There are two ways to look at Ruth. We see her as a biblical hero, but there was a time when she was an insignificant woman who needed help from people in a country where she was a stranger.

When Jesus said “you SHALL love your neighbor as yourself,” I think he had people like Ruth in mind. People who need help.

Ruth’s father-in-law, brother-in-law, and husband all died. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, had no one to represent or help them in the world. Ruth and Naomi needed to immigrate to Judah; to return to where Naomi had family who could help.

But that meant that Ruth, the girl from Moab, had to move to Judah.

The people of Judah had such a long negative history with Moab, that in the Old Testament we are told that Moab originated from incest (Genesis 19:15-38). Lot and his daughters escaped Sodom and Gomorrah, but his wife was turned to a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Lot’s daughters, believing themselves to be the last humans on earth, seduced their father and gave birth to his sons (Genesis 19:30‑36).

This makes for an awkward family tree. Lot was father and grandfather to his sons.  The firstborn son/grandson was Moab. Genesis 19:37 says, “he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day.”

This is Ruth’s heritage. Ruth is the descendant of incest. The message seems clear—Moab is not the kind of place where respectable people come from.

Jesus tells me to love my neighbors even though he knows that some of my neighbors are from places like Moab.

In Ruth’s day, people in Judah might have seen her as a poor, needy, widow from no-good Moab. It turns out she was that and more. Ruth was the great-grandmother of The Great King of Israel, King David (Ruth 4:17), and an ancestor to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-16).

The problem with loving my neighbor is that it’s hard. The problem with not loving my neighbor is that I may miss out on Ruth.

Ruth was more than her circumstances. Ruth was a beloved child of God. Psalm 146 says God upholds people like her. Jesus invites commands me to do the same.

What about you? Do you find it easy to love your neighbor? Are you more likely to focus on what you have in common (i.e., your humanity), than what makes you different? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.


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