Today, from Matthew’s Gospel we hear the familiar, “Greatest Commandment” description that Jesus utters to silence the Pharisees. A little background…
Take a look at the first reading from Exodus. In that reading you can get a sense of what the Jewish people, of the time, thought the greatest commandment was. You can see how much more restrictive it is compared to Jesus’ broad and all encompassing command of loving God, neighbor and ourselves.
The Jewish people would have agreed with Jesus about loving God, of course. Initially they would have even agreed with loving their neighbor, but as we all know, their idea of who their neighbor was and the idea of neighbor that Jesus had were very different. The idea of neighbor for the Jewish people of the time and sadly, for many today, is that their neighbor is generally understood as anyone of their own clan, background and/or descendants. This doesn’t sound bad until you observe who their neighbors aren’t.
The difference between the Jews understanding of neighbor and Jesus’ idea of neighbor was dramatically displayed when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In a very clever way, Jesus tells the story of someone helping another and how ritual uncleanliness prohibited the Jewish leader characters from approaching the injured man and even crossed over to the other side to avoid it all together. In a dramatic shift, Jesus portrays the hated Samaritan as being the model of obeying God’s greatest commandment.
What does it mean to us? The message is clear. Our neighbor is whoever is in our immediate proximity or in other words, who ever is right in front of us. In this age of social media, cell phones and the internet, the idea of close proximity is expanded beyond physical proximity to include those before us socially, those before us over the internet and those before us in our world, national, local and personal conversations.
Simply put, our neighbor is everyone and we need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and love God.
Rev. James Kirby