1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
When asked by a scholar of the law which commandment is the greatest, Jesus wisely responds with the two commandments upon which the whole of the law and prophets depend.
"You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
To love God is to love our neighbor. To serve God is to serve our neighbor. Christians understand that our relationships with those around us are the real embodiment of the Word of God that dwells within us. The Word of God becomes flesh, becomes real in the many different ways we welcome the stranger, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and show compassion to those who suffer.
It sounds easier than it is. For some reason, human beings seem to work very hard to exclude rather than include. We fight wars about religion. We discriminate based on skin color. We close our borders to those fleeing poverty and violence. Even the Catholic bishops at the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod wrestled with how to welcome and include others who are not in ideal marriages or relationships.
So the question really becomes, "Who is my neighbor," as the scholar goes on to ask in the version of this story in the Gospel of Luke. Throughout the Bible, God is the defender of the poor, the outcast, the shunned widow, and the sinner. It really is not a question of who our neighbor is or who we have to be nice to. Rather the question is how we can be a good neighbor to others in need. When we welcome the migrant family, ensure parents can feed their children, and provide safe housing for the homeless; when we say a kind word to the cashier at the grocery store, prepare a casserole for a family grieving the death of a loved one, and stop to let another driver turn into busy traffic…these are the real embodiment of the Word of God within us.
We intuitively know when things are out of whack in our world, when we are not in right relationship with God and God’s plan for us. And I think we also intuitively know what we need to do to bring us back into right relationship with God. We need only ask ourselves, "How is God calling me to be the good neighbor today?"
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.