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Sunday Devotional: What does loving our neighbor and our enemy mean?

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,
“You 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 from Jerusalem to 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.”

The above passage from Luke 10 leaves us with these questions:

  • Who are my “neighbors”?
  • What does “loving” my neighbors 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.

Note that in Luke 10, 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:
    1. Our “neighbor” is anyone we encounter in our lives, even strangers, who find themselves in foul circumstances through no fault of their own.
    2. To “love our neighbor” means to treat those who are in need “with mercy,” that is, with kindness and compassion, and to provide assistance.
  2. 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:
    1. Our “enemies,” therefore, differ from our “neighbors” in that “enemies” are those who knowingly do wrong.
    2. 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.
  3. 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:

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Offered in humility and love,

~Eowyn

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