Tag Archives: Matthew 22:36-39

Sunday Devotional: Who are our 'neighbors' and our 'enemies'? How are we to 'love' them?

In Matthew 22:36-39, a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”

Jesus said to him, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.

More than 14 years ago, after a journey that took some 10 years, I returned to Him. Since my coming home, I can honestly say I have loved the Lord, my God, with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind, and with all my strength.

But, knowing all the foibles of fallen humanity — foibles of which I amply partake — and the darkness of the human heart, I have not been able to “love my neighbor as myself.” Knowing my own wretchedness, I don’t even love myself with my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole soul!

To love my neighbor as myself is difficult enough. But in Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus tells us we must do even more:

“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,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The above passages from Matthew 22 and Matthew 5 leave us with these questions:

  • Who are my “neighbors”?
  • What does “loving” my neighbors mean?
  • Who are my “enemies”?
  • What does “loving” my enemies mean?

Alas, most priests, if not all of the priests whom I’ve heard, don’t define or explain those terms — which is puzzling because the answers are given, of course, by Christ Himself.

In Luke 10:29-37, in response to the question “And who is my neighbor”, our Lord replied with the parable of the good Samaritan:

“A man fell victim to robbers as he went down to Jerusalem from Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Note that Jesus did not identify the robbers as our “neighbors”. Our “neighbor” is the man who “fell victim to robbers” who himself had done no wrong.
In Leviticus 19:17-18, it is said:

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And so, Luke 10 and Leviticus 19 give us the definitions we need:

  1. From Luke 10’s parable of the good Samaritan, we learn that our “neighbor” is anyone we encounter in our lives, even strangers, who find themselves in foul circumstances through no fault of their own.
  2. From the parable of the good Samaritan, we learn that to “love our neighbor” means to treat those who are in need “with mercy,” that is, with kindness and compassion, and to provide assistance.
  3. But the “neighbor” in the parable of the good Samaritan was a man who fell victim to robbers through no fault of his own. What about people who find themselves in foul circumstances through their own fault? This is where “love your enemies” comes in.
  4. Our “enemies,” therefore, differ from our “neighbors” in that “enemies” are those who knowingly do wrong.
  5. That, in turn, implies that, unlike our neighbors, we are not to treat our enemies — those who knowingly do wrong — with mercy, kindness, compassion, and assistance.
  6. But we must still “love our enemies”. So how are we to love our enemies? As Leviticus 19:17-18 instructs, to love our enemies means that:
    1. We “rebuke” them: Rebuke is defined as “to criticize sharply“.
    2. We bear no hatred for them in our hearts.
    3. We do not seek revenge: Revenge is not the same as to mete out justice — revenge is defined as retaliation in kind or degree; to mete out justice is defined as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments”. (Just is defined as “morally upright or good”.) Unlike the impartial meting out of justice, “revenge” has an emotional component, which is where “hatred” comes in.
    4. We do not bear a grudge: Once justice is rendered, we let it go.
    5. We pray for them — that they repent and return to God.

Recognizing the above definitions, to “love” our “neighbors” and our “enemies” is a task that is neither simple nor easy. When we falter, just remember this:
Jesus loves us this much
Offered in humility and love,
~Eowyn

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Sunday Devotional: Loving your neighbor as yourself

We are all familiar with what our Lord Jesus the Christ has instructed us about the Greatest Commandment of All.

In Matthew 22:36-39, a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”

Jesus said to him, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.”

Nearly 11 years ago, I returned to the Catholic Church after many years away. I was never bitter or angry; I simply lost my faith. That loss was prompted in no small part by my naïve belief in a charismatic philosophy professor in junior college who proclaimed — mistakenly — that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls had “proven” the non-divinity of Jesus.

It is only in retrospect that I realize my journey home had taken some 10 years, beginning at a time when I wasn’t even aware of it.

It is also in retrospect that I realize that my journey home began with my soul: I became conscious of my gravest sin, followed by remorse.

Then it was my mind. I had to be intellectually convinced that God exists, which took much thinking and reading of philosophy and theology.

The last part of my journey home involved my heart.

By that time, I was attending Sunday Mass, but abstained from receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist. One Sunday, as I watched the congregants line up to receive Holy Communion, the thought “came into” my mind:

“God must really love me to put up with me all these years.”

And with that, the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place. Or rather, the last piece of me, which had fallen away from God, was restored.

And I became whole — restored and returned to Him, by His loving mercy and grace.

Since my epiphany that Sunday, I have loved the Lord, my God, with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind, and with all my strength.

But, knowing all the foibles of fallen humanity — foibles of which I amply partake — and the darkness of the human heart, I have not been able to “love my neighbor as myself.” For how can I love all humans with my whole heart, my whole mind, my whole soul . . . ? Knowing my own wretchedness, I don’t even love myself with my whole heart, my whole mind, and my whole soul!

Nor has any priest, in the hundreds of homilies I’ve heard, ever given an adequate definition of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Who is my “neighbor”? What does “loving” my neighbor means? Most priests I’ve heard, if not all of them, don’t even attempt to define or explain — which is puzzling because the answer is given by, of course, Christ Himself!

From today’s Gospel reading:

Luke 10:25-37

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “Your shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down to Jerusalem from Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

And so, when we are instructed to love our neighbor, in Jesus’ own words, it means we are to treat other human beings “with mercy.” When another has fallen, through no fault of his/her, we are to treat “our neighbor” with kindness and compassion, and provide assistance to the best of our abilities.

That is the true meaning of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”  That, I can and will do!

Offered in humility and love,

~Eowyn

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