Do I have to “like” my neighbor?

gleren-meneghin-246485

Photo by Gleren Meneghin on Unsplash

This is my response to a question recently posed to me. It came via email: ” I know I have to love my neighbor. But do I have to like them?”

That’s a tough one. The phrase “love your neighbor” is in the Old Testament law, is affirmed by Jesus and later quoted by Paul. It’s all over the Bible.

In the context of Leviticus 19:18, it’s all about provision, honesty, integrity and justice for our “neighbor.” Vengeance or nastiness are off the table.

When that phrase, “love your neighbor” appears in Paul’s letters or James, it supports the commandments which protect life, relationships, property and reputation. The motivation for those laws is the other person, not God.

Jesus mentions it to those who wanted to be righteous and obey the law. His words makes us realize that it’s not just about the rules, but the person.

But the go to passage is probably the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told to those who wanted to be righteous and wanted to know who their neighbor was (Luke 10:25-37). Here, the neighbor is obviously the one who showed mercy. If one were to imagine the aftermath of this story, I doubt that the Samaritan and the victim became good friends and went out for coffee. Love for the neighbor was the action of having mercy and meeting a need. Feelings are not mentioned. Just the compassion.

That doesn’t let us off the hook, though. Hatred and anger make us murders and fifth-commandment law breakers. I’ve struggled with this. I can barely talk to my neighbors across the street with civility. They are my second-worst neighbors ever! When they tried to sell their home a few years ago, I was, quite frankly, pretty excited. But they didn’t sell. Boo.

First, I believe people like this in our lives are there to remind us of how hard we are to love and how amazing Jesus’ capacity to love is. I mean, think about it. Jesus loves me.

Second, I can beat myself up for not loving my neighbor or I can flee for refuge to his infinite mercy. I know he would have me do the latter. Part of the reason Israel went into exile was because they had turned away from God and their neighbor as the rich became richer and the poor became poorer. But that was to teach them that God’s way was better. I want to learn from them. I’ll turn to him.

Third, there are a lot of people in the bible who don’t get along with each other. The disciples fought among themselves, Paul wasn’t especially fond of Peter, Paul didn’t like Mark either, and Jews and Samaritans generally ignored each other. It’s the rule, not the exception. Two thousand years into the history of the Christian Church, we still can’t get along with each other. This is what we and every generation are like.

So can we just ignore our aggravating neighbors? No. Can we avoid them. No. Can we hate them? No. Can we love them? Yes. But only with a lot of help! We only love because he first loved us.

I believe the answer is to simply be obedient. Most of the time I don’t feel like doing what God wants me to do. I do it because I know that his way is best for me. We walk by the Spirit, not the feelings or desires of our flesh.

Who knows, maybe God will change your feelings toward that person?

A place to stay

knock“You are a priest, so you have to give me a place to stay.”

Those were the first words out of the woman’s mouth when I answered the door one evening just before dark and found her standing on our front step. We had only been at my first parish for a year to two. Even in the rolling rural hills of eastern Connecticut, a variety of people quickly found out that we lived in the parsonage next door to the church. So we got the usual procession of people looking for food or gas money, but till now never a demand for housing.

Inge introduced herself with a thick Swedish accent. She hadn’t been in America very long, found herself abused and estranged from her husband, and had nowhere to go. I think at some point we actually met her husband, but there wasn’t going to be any reconciliation. She was also Lutheran, actually a pastor of some sort herself. We were a combination of naive, compassionate, and new at this, and we had a huge house full of rooms we weren’t using, so we took her in. Our family was small, just my wife and I and our infant son — and now a boarder.

She didn’t bring much with her. Inge had little money, just a few items of clothing and personal items in a small suitcase. Her habits were a little different than ours. She liked eating bread slathered with mayonnaise and tomato sauce. On many a pasta night we found ourselves with no sauce. She also like to make sweet rolls with lots and lots and lots of butter. I seem to remember that she showered and shaved only occasionally, taking more of a continental approach to hygiene.

Inge found a job at some kind of small manufacturing company in our town, one she could walk to. She did attend worship and bible class when she didn’t have to work. She used some of her income to buy things like a VHS player, which she wanted to take back to Sweden with her. Since she was “buying American” for the moment, we saw a glaring flaw in her plan. She wasn’t actually saving anymoney to go back home.

After a few months, we decided we would help her out. She didn’t have a bank account, so we cashed her paychecks for her, withholding some and saving up for a flight back to Sweden. Within a month, we had enough for the trip. I purchased a ticket, drove her to La Guardia, and dropped her off. I don’t think we ever heard from her again.

I have helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways over the years. This was the only time we actually took someone in. It’s been a memory-stretcher to recall this story. I wasn’t journaling my life then as I do now. I definitely remember it being a less fearful and more innocent time, before the Persian Gulf conflicts, 9/11, Internet, wifi, and smart phones.

I’m not sure we would do this again. Were we foolish or faithful? Hard to say. Following Christ seems to be a mixture of both sometimes.

 

The red sofa

IMG-7566OK, it’s really a love seat. But it is really red. And I see it every time I leave my house or come back home. Because it sits, faithfully, on my neighbor’s lawn.

If you ask me, it shouldn’t have a place in someone’s yard. It shouldn’t have a place in someone’s house, either. Three weeks ago my neighbor put it out on the curb, assuming that the garbage men would pick it up. Nope. They didn’t want it either. It has now been soaked by the rains, ignored on bulk pick up days, and endured the intense heat of the October Florida sun. Passing dogs have baptized it, bugs have taken up residence in it, and mold has begun to thrive in it.

It doesn’t seem to bother my neighbor at all. He cuts the lawn around it. He stacks weekly trash against it. It has joined his unsightly array of halloween, occult and just plain ugly lawn ornaments.

I suppose there are times in life when you need a red sofa. Like when you’re going to murder someone in your living room. Or you’re bleeding from some orifice. Maybe you’re addicted to ketchup. Think about it. Someone actually made this love seat. Someone actually bought it. And yes, now someone has set it out in the yard for all to enjoy.

Just wait — I’m going to come up with a story to go with it.