Let me start today with an image that many of you will be familiar with. A plain sweater, white canvass sneakers, a warm smile and a simple song that welcomed us every day, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” (My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day.) Every day Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. But, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must necessarily also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of neighbor. As Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Or as we hear more succinctly in the First Letter of John, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.”
Jesus is reacting against the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express extreme devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. But, for Jesus, true love must express itself in: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.
Pope Francis touched on this today in his Angelus message at the Vatican. Reflecting on today’s Gospel, the Pope said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and that of the brother or sister. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present. In light of the word of Jesus, love is the measure of our faith, and faith is the spirit of love. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to our brothers and sisters, to those concrete brothers and sisters we meet. No longer can we divide prayer, the encounter with God in the sacraments, from listening to others, from closeness to their lives, especially to their wounds.”
This is a concern that reaches our ears and our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the ongoing scourge of prejudice, violence, war, death and destruction that are so much a part of our world to wonder where is our love of neighbor?
There are many Christians who try to separate the love of fellow human beings from their love of God. There are many followers of Jesus whose commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. We do well to heed Jesus in today's gospel: true love of God and true love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin.
Again, we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. Let us ask God to help us have eyes that realize when we see the face of those around us, we really see the face of God. We pray, not only for the knowledge of how to love, but the wisdom to want to love in all circumstances.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.