Most of us have people in our lives that we just do not like. There are people that annoy us, offend us, frighten us, upset us, make us uncomfortable. People that we do not want around us for one reason or the other. People with whom we spend as little time as possible. If you were asked to make a list of these people, who would be on it?
Thinking about that list helps make the point of how dramatic and unexpected the response of Jesus is to the question, “Which commandment is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:34-40) The first part of his response saying that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and soul was to be expected. It is the next part that is the shocker. Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and that the whole law is based on these TWO commandments.
The people of Jesus time were familiar with both of the commandments. What is new is that Jesus made them both equally important. Previously, love of God was seen as the most important and love of neighbor was secondary. In saying that the whole law is based on both commandments Jesus is teaching that you cannot say that you love God and then not love your neighbor. Or put another way, love of neighbor is proof that we mean it when we say that we love God.
Guess who the neighbor is. Yes, in addition to all the people who are easy for us to love, neighbor includes all those people on our lists of the undesirables, including our enemies. So now, what do we do with that list? We do what Jesus asks us to do. We let the list beckon us to love more completely, more wholly. We use the list as an invitation to take another look at those that we may have written off. The list can lead to an acknowledgement of our prejudices, fears or our anger towards others that create the distance between us and our neighbor.
The lists of those who are undesirable are a cause for much hurt in the world. We can be instruments of healing by taking Jesus seriously when he says that love of God means love of neighbor. With the grace of God who loves us wholly, may our lists get shorter and shorter.