This Is a Hard Teaching

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Matthew 5:17

Do you love your neighbor?

Not in the abstract sense. Look out your door, and across the way, or right next to you. The person who lives closest to you.

Your roommate. The unbelievably annoying one, who comes in at all hours and leaves trash lying around, who smells a little tipsy sometimes. Who hates you.

Or next door. The guy who is subtly–or not-so-subtly–judging your lawn and your house, and you, all of which have been found wanting. Even though he pays someone to do his lawn, and is probably rich, and has no idea who you are. That guy.

The woman next to you in church. She’s sleazy. You can smell the stench of her perfume. It gags you. In your head, the verse floats before your mind: “Not the braiding of hair, or the putting on of jewelry, but a gentle and quiet spirit…” She leans over and whispers to you during the sermon, with a sort of conspirator’s air that makes you ill. That woman.

The workers at the construction site. The ones who can barely speak English. You’re sure that they are not here legally. Those men.

Do you love your neighbor?

Not in the nebulous, affection way. Not in the, “I’m supposed to love him, so I do, but I definitely don’t like him” way.

With the hard, cold, burning charity that wants the best for the beloved–in everything. The love that lays down its life–not once, but every day. The selfless, clean, pure, love that strips away pretence and strikes us at the core. The love that every opportunity chooses the beloved’s good first. The love of God, who is a consuming fire.

The kind of love that terrifies us.

Do you love your neighbor?

You may have thought of at least one person whom you love like that. Maybe two. A close friend. A child. A spouse.

And even that really isn’t enough. It’s only a pale reflection of the real thing.

But your neighbor?

The Law commanded us to love our neighbor. We often are able to fool ourselves into thinking that we do.

But Jesus commanded us to love our enemy.

So, I ask:

Do you love your enemy?

Those who beat you, bruised you, humiliated you?

The friend who stabbed you in the back?

The man who crushed you, just because he could?

The woman who assassinated your reputation?

The men who attacked your country, destroyed your safety, threw your world into confusion?

The murderers? The thieves? The destroyers of beauty and innocence?

Even as I write, people I consider my enemies come to mind. Each time, I back away, saying, “Yes, but–”

But what?

No one could be a greater traitor than I. We are all enemies of God, condemned, murderers.

Do you love your enemy?

Do you even love your neighbor?

I know I don’t.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
John 6:60

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