How ‘Love Your Neighbor’ Informs My Faith
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus speaks of this command in Matthew, Mark and Luke as joining “Love the Lord your God” at the heart of faithful living (Mt 22:39, Mk 12:31, Lk 10:27). Paul in Romans (13:9) and Galatians (5:14), as well as James (2:8), cites “Loving your neighbor” as the fulfilling of the law.
Paul, James, Matthew, Mark and Luke were all good Jews, and were familiar with their source in Scripture, Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Of course, everything depends on how we interpret, or understand, this command to love our neighbor. I see two crucial elements to this rule that are required of me by Christ.
First, no matter how much I may be tempted to do so, I am not allowed to judge my neighbor.
The way Leviticus expresses this hits very close to home; I am never to “bear a grudge” against another. And Jesus is clear in the Sermon on the Mount about why this is so: “Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:1-2).”
The logic here is that judgment belongs to God. Period.
This applies to all my neighbors, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) neighbors. LGBT people stand before God just like everyone else. I am also not to judge those who disagree with me, including those who have taken action against me in the church. Like LGBT people, like me, and like all others, Jesus stands at their side at God’s judgment seat. We will all answer for the conduct of our lives but not to me. My job as a Christian is to love.
Which brings me to the second crucial element to this rule: I am to show mercy to all.
Jesus’ longest teaching on how we best live out the commandment to love our neighbor is the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 where the Samaritan shows mercy to the man by the side of the road. This story is one reason I speak up about God’s love for LGBT people. Too many LGBT lives continue to be crippled and even ended in desperation by hatred toward them. LGBT people are in danger of ending up beaten by the side of the road, so to speak, all the time.
“And who proved to be neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” asks Jesus. I answer with the lawyer in Luke, “The one who showed mercy.” In Jesus’ stunning twist to drive His point home, it is not the priest or the Levite, but the Samaritan — who at that time was shunned as unclean — who proves to be the neighbor. Mercy is the heart of loving our neighbor.
This is one way Scripture informs my faith and inspires my actions in the world.