Who is my neighbor? I've been pondering this thought lately, and a few scenarios come to mind. Jesus seems to sum up the matter of our neighbors upon the earth in a manner so succinct and so all-encompassing all at once, by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Don't we all have trouble with a neighbor next door? All the more a person who dresses funny, smells funny, has a different standard of rules...Jesus helps us to see that our neighbor is the person of any ethnicity...of any political or economic or theological background...from any neighborhood, near or far...and as I thought about it (even while reading an unrelated book, various verses interrupted my thoughts, so I kept notes), the exhortation to love your neighbor is found not just in that passage but throughout the Scriptures. The passage that I think most clearly displays what Jesus is proposing is in Matthew 25:31-46:
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'"
If that passage doesn't cause me to stop and consider the things that I have done in my life, or to resolve to do the best I can in times to come, I don't know what would! I need to post it somewhere more visible, so that it becomes a more primary attitude as I go about my days. Others clearly represent Jesus Christ Himself, and how we treat them not only indicates to them how much His people love them, but indicates to Jesus how much we love Him. It's not an isolated thought; it's clear throughout the Scriptures:
Proverbs 19:17 says that if we lend to the poor, we lend to the Lord. It isn't that Jesus needs us to lend to Him; of course that's a ridiculous notion. So the only alternative is that lending to the poor is a gracious attitude, and blesses God Himself. He receives blessing from us when we provide for another. What an amazing thought!
The flow doesn't just go outward from ourselves, either. Jesus feels how others treat us as well. When Saul was walking along the Damascus road, and Jesus stopped him and blinded him (Acts 9:3-5) and asked him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting..." Saul had never seen Christ. He had never personally persecuted Him. But Jesus was feeling the pain personally of those who Saul had been mistreating and killing.
Jesus will also bless those who treat us well. I always have to remind myself that this is about a cup being offered to Christians, not by Christians to others: Mark 9:41 says, "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward." This is sandwiched in the context of how we treat a little child: Mark 9:36-37 says, "Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 'Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.'" and then, in verse 42, He says,"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea." I have only touched on the verses that regard loving your neighbor; they are many: "Honor all people"; "Love your wife as Christ loves the church"; "Fathers, do not exasperate your children"; "Turn the other cheek..." And then when I read 1 John, I think that the writer must have been very grieved because of the prevalence of hateful attitudes in the recipients of his letter; the exhortations regarding loving one's brother are plentiful there: 1 John 2:9-11 says, "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." Then there is 1 John 3:10-18: "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous.
Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth."
If that weren't enough, 1 John 4:8 says, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." Then there is 4:20: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
The consequences of how we treat others are breathtaking: To be given a "Well-done, good and faithful servant" at the end of our earthly days, rather than the dire warnings of Matthew 25:46 or Mark 9:42, we need to be very careful of how we treat others, learn to love the young, the old, the foreign, the enemy, the unlovable and the helpless, and remove any attitude that hinders our doing so. It isn't something that comes readily to us, or God would not have to keep teaching us and reminding us in His word. It is a process and something at which we can constantly be practicing to do better.
Psalm 18:29 For by You I can run upon a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall.