Saturday, October 28, 2017
Won't you be my neighbor?
Sing with me if you know this: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day. If you’re like me, you’ll rmember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. 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. And, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Our Gospel today is also asking us to reflect on who is our neighbor. Today’s passage follows last week’s in which the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, its’ the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus, this time with a question about the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is the love of God. But, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is the love of neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must 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 our neighbor. 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.” 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 challenging the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: 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. God took just as much time to create each one of us; to create you. We are all God’s masterpieces.
Pope Francis touched on this topic reflecting on today’s Gospel. He 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 the face of our brothers and sisters. 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. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to the concrete brothers and sisters we meet every day. 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 concern resonates with what we see in our world today. Yes, 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 unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. These things cause us to wonder where is the love of our neighbor?
Just like the Pharisees of old, today there are too many Christians who try to separate the love of their fellow human beings from their love of God. There are too 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. 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.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters – especially those who are different from us; especially those who others reject; especially those in need. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the face of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God.
“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.