And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
This past year, it finally clicked in my head who my neighbor is. After 24 years of living and 9 years of being a Christian, I finally understood what Jesus meant.
I never really encountered homeless people until I started living in Lexington. Now, they’re everywhere. They’re at the park across the street from where I work, they’re in Jimmy Johns around the corner, they’re rummaging the trash cans on the street where I live, they’re walking from the shelter on one side of town all the way to the shopping center on the opposite side of town.
And until recently, I had all the same schema about homeless people: they’re demanding, annoying, act entitled, out to get you, they’re going to beg you until they get what they want…
And some of them are, but some of them aren’t. Most of them aren’t. There’s the guy (never slowed him down to ask his name) who walks past the coffee shop every morning at 7:15 AM, bag in hand, head up, never stopping to ask for anything. He moves fast and with purpose – so much so that until a few months ago, I had no idea he was homeless. There’s Donna and Jeff who come in and talk to us at the shop and look for a pay-it-forward but don’t complain if there’s not one there, and happily get water if nothing else. There’s the fellow in my area who looks through trash cans for a little food, and when you pass him, he doesn’t ask for anything from you – and I’m still hoping to stop him one day and have a hot meal ready that I can share with him.
See, one day, I learned the lesson of “love your neighbor” on the most practical level…I was coming out of Chipotle where I had just gorged myself on a fantastic burrito, and there were these two gentlemen sitting outside on the step who asked if I had a little money so they could eat.
A number of thoughts went through my head about who they were, how legitimate they were, if they were gonna use the money for food or for drugs, but then I heard a voice – the Holy Spirit, I opine – saying, “that’s not your job. be kind. you just ate – there’s enough in your pockets for your neighbor to eat, too.”
How could I lie? The money I’d just spent on a burrito was not the last bit of money I had to my name – so yes, my neighbor could eat.
It all boiled down to this, for me: how do I deserve to eat because I have money, but my neighbor doesn’t deserve to eat because he doesn’t? Is money inherently linked to worthiness? Is worthiness based on opportunity? No.
Human beings need to eat. If I have the means to feed another human being who needs it, and I choose not to, I’m not doing my job as a human being.
And with that, the concept of loving my neighbor has become a lot more simple. It has a lot less to do with gospel-sharing (at least in word) and any sort of ideological initiative, and a lot more to do with doing what I can to make sure people are eating, drinking, and getting the help they need (ie. the gospel in deed.) Kindness looks like a hamburger, or a Gatorade on a hot summer day, or like a hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night. It looks like a hat, or a pair of gloves, or a coat, or a glass of water. Kindness should be accompanied with no panache or glamour or fanfare, but with a smile and a quiet resilience to willingly set right a very small corner of the world which injustice has distorted.
That is one ‘extreme,’ of sorts – the other side of the coin is simply: how do I love my neighbor who doesn’t have those kinds of needs? How do I love my co-working neighbor, my boss neighbor, my server neighbor, my church-going neighbor, my atheist neighbor, etc. and quite simply, it boils down to this (and I hope I can make this sensibly profound) – treat them like human beings. Do what you can to remove any arbitrary markers created by our own schema and human consciousness and celebrate human beings accordingly. Be as excited to see the guy who buses tables for a living as you are to see the mayor of your city – they’re both hard-working human beings. Be as willing to share a drink with someone whose worldview differs from your own as you are to share one with your like-minded cohort. Your neighbor is quite often unlike you.
This is the sort of kindness, I believe, that the world needs. In our pacy world, I think we’d do well to revisit what it is to share a meal, share a drink, have a conversation, etc. Do what seems right, do what seems good, and remember this:
“If I give all I have to the poor…but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is not self-seeking…love does not boast.”
[1 Corinthians 13, fragmented for my own purposes and for emphasis.]