What is the “Christian” way? When faced with political, social, and economic choices within our society, how should Christians respond? Jesus himself is asked to summarize the question “what’s the most important thing?”
In Matthew 22:36-40, we see how Jesus responds:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Of all the theological study, Bible reading, prophetic interpretation, discipleship classes, Christian education, sermons, teachings, and every person, place, thing, or idea related to the religion called ‘Christianity,’ the ultimate goal is this — to love God and love our neighbors.
In Luke 10:25-37, we’re given even more information. Jesus is questioned by an expert in the law about how to inherit eternal life. When Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself, ’”
The expert asked, " And who is my neighbor?"
In reply Jesus said something profound: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”’
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
There’s important cultural context that we need to understand in order to comprehend the significance of this passage. Samaritans were a hated enemy of the Jewish audience. Jesus is boldly claiming that the ‘neighbors’ that we’re supposed to love as ourselves include our very own enemies.
This point — to love everyone — is further reaffirmed by Jesus when he proclaims that “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5).
For American Christians, our neighbors include — but aren’t limited to—immigrants, both undocumented and documented, refugees, the sick, the poor, the oppressed, Iranians, Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, and everyone else. These neighbors are Christian and non-Christian alike, American and non-American, and there are no exceptions based on nationality, race, creed, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender expression.
But we’ve become experts at withholding love, and we use excuses that include — but aren’t limited to — partisan politics, national security, the economy, patriotism, ‘law and order,’ personal comfort, safety, wealth, and countless other excuses we use to denigrate people. We have poisoned the way we see people, and instead of viewing everyone as neighbors who are divinely loved and made in the divine image of God, we tend to evaluate people’s worth according to our own carnal and selfish methods.
This is why even Christians say horrible things like “immigrants are a drain on our economy” and “they’re illegal” or “refugees are violent criminals” or “Muslims are terrorists.” Before long, we’ve added so many restrictions and pre-qualifiers to loving others that instead of generously and sacrificially loving our neighbors, we judge and oppress them. Our desire to love God and love others becomes co-opted, and instead of exuding Christ’s love we’re lobbying for laws and supporting policies that exclude others, withdraw help from others, go to war with others, and even kill others — people loved by God and made in the very image of God.
Like God’s love for us, the love we show our neighbors shouldn’t be contingent on merit, safety, efficiency, time, money, energy, or even legality. This love of Jesus surpasses all knowledge (Eph 3:18-19), and will seem illogical by most standards.
For those who’ve become used to interpreting God’s will via political platforms, state-sponsored agendas, and nationalistic rhetoric, viewing everyone as a neighbor seems illogical and contrary to reason — but they should’ve taken this into consideration when they decided to follow a savior who claimed to supernaturally rise from the dead three days after being crucified on a cross.
As followers of Jesus, it’s time to stop and really ask ourselves: What is the point of it all? May we love God and love our neighbors — all of them — to the best of our ability.