*The following blog was written 8 years ago in the fall of 2010.
Today I was confronted with one of the most basic, yet comprehensive teachings of Jesus – love God and love your neighbor as yourself. One would think that after years of studying His Word and trying to live as a disciple of His, I would not only understand what it means to love God and love neighbor, but that I would also have an easier time actually doing what Jesus says. Well, today was a reminder of how far I have yet to go.
I have a neighbor; I’ll call him “John.” In thinking about an inner city setting, John fits the ghetto stereotype well – the house is in poor condition, the yard is unkempt, toys are strewn about the yard, lots of people in and out of the house, and yes, lots of dogs… pit bulls nonetheless! This is the same home where a few months back there was a drive-by shooting late in the night. Fortunately it was not fatal, though a young 17-year-old man was shot in the chest.
In seeking to be a neighbor, one of the things Shelly and I attempt to do is to literally beautify our street. How do we do this? Well, you do things like take an old burned out house and transform it into a nice home, you have a lawn that you water and mow, you landscape and seasonally plant flowers, or at least this is one way in which Shelly and I have sought to change the appearance of our community. The hope is that as we take pride in our home and our street, so will this encourage the neighbors to do likewise. For the most part I would say this has been an effective model.
But here is a problem, how do you truly love your neighbor when their way of living infringes upon your home, your life and what you deem to be valuable in a community? How should a follower of Jesus respond to prostitution, drug dealing and drive-by shootings? This morning my frustration was trying to figure out what to do about the pit bulls that run free in our neighborhood and in our yard. Today I did what I think most people in America would do – I called the animal patrol. Within minutes they arrived in front of my neighbor’s house as they questioned him about his dogs and told him that a neighbor was fed up with his pit bulls running free. Looking outside the window, I knew that I had done the wrong thing by calling the animal patrol. Immediately my heart was convicted as God brought Jesus’ words to mind to love God and love my neighbor as myself. God’s law superseded any rights I felt I had as a neighbor of John.
Feeling much conviction and guilt in my heart, thus shame in how poorly I had “loved” my neighbor, I packed up the kids and headed out the door so as to avoid facing John. While in the car Elijah asked me what was wrong and I told him that I was frustrated with myself for I had done a poor job of loving my neighbor. In our time of being out of the house, and through prayer to our Father, I came to the conclusion that I had to go confess my sin to my neighbor, ask for his forgiveness and address the problem in a way that I believed would have been honoring to Jesus.
My conclusion was this: as a neighbor of South 31st Street, with two small children, I have every right to be frustrated and concerned with pit bulls that run free in the neighborhood, especially in my yard. However, rather than dealing with the problem as I did, and calling animal patrol to do my dirty work, I should have lovingly confronted my neighbor, addressed my concerns and then offered to assist in bringing about a solution. Isn’t this what Jesus would have done? How am I truly loving my neighbor if all I do is point out another person’s flaws? Is not the way of Jesus to make known our shortcomings, but also, through love, mercy and grace, help us deal with our own imperfections?
After feeding the kids lunch I headed outside and knocked on John’s door. I asked him if he had a minute to talk to which I then proceeded to tell him that I was the person that called the animal patrol (something he was not pleased to hear), that I had been a poor neighbor and not very Jesus-like (he knows I am a follower), and I said I was sorry and asked for his forgiveness. I then did what I should have done in the first place… I offered a lending hand to help bring resolve with the situation. Tomorrow I’m heading to Lowe’s to by 2×4’s to help my neighbor make a pen for his dogs, something he has wanted to do but has not been able to do. Isn’t this what it means to love my neighbor?
And expert of the law asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:43-47