The young man answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
“Why can’t I throw my bat after I hit the pitch?” asked one of the actors at Vacation Bible School earlier this week. “It’s fun, and I haven’t ever hurt anyone.”
Now there’s a question I’ve heard a time or two in different forms: what’s the point of this rule? I’ve never had any problems when I break it. You’ve probably asked it yourself a time or two. “I never wore a helmet when I rode my bike, and I’m fine.” “I’ve never crashed into another car when I drive ten over.” “I make jokes about other people all the time, and no one has ever complained to me.” “I don’t worry about food allergy labels. Why should anyone?”
In that VBS skit, another actor pointed out that baseball bats are hard and heavy, especially when the whole thing gets launched to the side as somebody takes off running. People nearby can and do get hurt. Is it really loving, the actor wondered, to choose to do something that might hurt someone else just for fun?
The first actor admitted that he hadn’t really been thinking about how throwing the bat might impact someone else. It never occurred to him that a wild throw might knock out someone’s tooth or give them a black eye.
It can take a bit of practice to get in the habit of thinking of other people as naturally as we think of ourselves. What would it look like to love my neighbor so that when I drive, I think about the other drivers and pedestrians as much as I think about getting to my destination? What would it look like to love my neighbor so that when I shop, I am considerate of the workers and think about the people who worked to produce whatever I’m buying? What would it look like to love my neighbor so that when I speak, I consider how my words will affect the people who hear me?
Some people call this the “Golden Rule”: do to other people what you’d want them to do to you. Jesus isn’t talking about just “doing” though. Jesus is telling us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This includes our actions as well as our thoughts. It’s a high demand, this greatest commandment.
It’s even, as we heard at Vacation Bible School, a command that has the power to change the world, because to love means also to forgive. When we forgive our neighbors and are forgiven, we show the same great love that God has for us. God loves you and forgives you and asks you to do the same for your neighbor.
God, teach me to see my neighbors in every place and at every time. Give me your love so that I may give it to the world that needs it. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.