Jul 26, 2012

Love Thy Neighbor


Geez, after a lengthy facebook conversation I am troubled in spirit. Why? Because I realize so personally how the Christian community has failed miserably to follow the commands of Christ and for that reason, "Christianity" to many is a bad bad word. The feeling of rejection, condemnation and criticism are paramount when many, especially homosexuals, hear the word "Christian". This is NOT what God or Jesus intended.

SO what commandment have we failed to follow the most?(There are many) but... Love thy neighbor as thyself. Who is my neighbor? It could be anyone. A black man or woman, rich or poor, someone uneducated, someone old, someone with HIV, someone with an STD, a muslim, a buddhist, a foreigner of any origin... Do we get to pick and choose our neighbors? Not so much. Do we get to pick and choose who God was thinking of when He said "Neighbor"... I don't think so.. Did He mean the neighbors that live right beside you only, or the ones across town? Did He confine "neighbor" to only the ones that speak your same language, figuratively or literally? I don't think so... So what was intended when the word "neighbor" was used in the translation of the original Hebrew text? The word is actually "rei-acha" and refers only to Jews. This view is supported by the context in which the phrase appears in the Torah, which can be translated as follows: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall not take revenge or feel resentment against the children of your people, you shall love your companion (rei-acha) as yourself" (Leviticus 19:17-18). Looking at this, it seems clear that "your companion" falls into the same category as "your brother" and "the children of your people," all explicitly referring to one's fellow Jew.

According to this view, "Love your neighbor as yourself" does not refer to anyone outside the Jewish people. "Neighbor" is not an accurate translation for the word rei-acha. The Hebrew word for "neighbor" is shachen; the Hebrew word rei-ah means "a very close companion." Sometimes rei-yah is used to mean "spouse." So who are our "neighbors" or "close companions" today? Are they only our fellow Jews? Can we extend the meaning to include "human beings" in general as our companions in our country or in the global village? Or is this too much to ask?

Leviticus 19:33-34 sheds some light on these questions and offers a corrective to the notion that we should love only members of our own tribe or our own collective family. These verses relate to others who live in our midst, "the stranger who resides with you," that is, the non-Jew. What do we do about him or her? How do we relate to someone who is not a member of our people? In these verses the Torah is very clear: you should love the stranger as yourself. Why? Because "you were strangers in the land of Egypt," that is, because of the history of Jews as a persecuted minority in someone else's land, Jews should have a special sensitivity to the non-Jewish citizens in our midst. Christian's should have special sensitivity to non-Christians (ah...thats sort of a no-brainer don't you think?)

Can we further expand on this to say that if the Jews were commanded to love the non-Jews, shouldn't we as "Christians" love non-Christians if in fact that is how we see others, even our "neighbors"... I mean what is the purpose of being a "Christian" if we can't have love for non-Christians?

It doesn't matter what we conclude to be the deciding factor of their Non-Christian status, i.e. their sin, perceived or otherwise.

Isn't it Love, i.e. God, that transforms us? So in our expression of this Love, God within, that would transform others?

Let me remind all who read, what Love is and isn't:

I Corinthians 13

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

If we act without Love, then we are acting apart from God and the Truth is not in us. I John 4:8(NIV) "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is Love."

If we are to be true disciples of Christ we must follow his commands and one in particular that relates to this topic as seen in John 20:21-23(KJV) - 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Let us treat our neighbors as we would ourselves, let us love one other forgiving each other of our sins, and let this "Love" transform us in our giving and receiving of the same.

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