Loving our neighbor is difficult. Like I mentioned, many Americans do not even know their neighbors names.
But maybe that’s not the only difficulty. Sometimes we make it difficult. What if they don’t like you? What if they take advantage of you? What if they have an agenda? What if we don’t connect? What if I’m not good enough for them?
The fear of things not working well prevents us from loving our neighbor.
Sometimes is trickier than our own hangups. We dislike our neighbor. They have offended us. They have been unjust with us. They’re too concerned about themselves. They have committed criminal acts. They don’t take care of themselves. They have hurt us.
I’m thinking of friends in our neighborhood who just had a car stolen. The car was found vandalized and with a lot of damage. They are struggling with how someone could treat someone else’s property that way.
I’m not saying this is easy. We live in a broken and fallen world that still requires locks on our doors, police forces, and courts of law. And still the call to love our neighbors remains.
I think this requires us to walk in great amount of wisdom. But grace has the final word. We don’t love our neighbors as we ought, but Christ loves us, his neighbor.
Take a look at the list of names Matthew gives us in 10:2-4. I know this list gets special attention from the biblical writers as being set apart for special office in the history of the church–they are the Apostles. But the biblical writers also give us some not so flattering details about these people, even right here.
Do you know Peter’s story? Peter’s impulsive, doesn’t think before he speaks, and when the pressure’s on melts like butter in sunshine. But there he is, Peter-the first. What about Matthew? He was a scammer, a national traitor, aligned with Rome. The worst toll booth guy you want to come across. What about James and John? Brothers bent on holding power. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to his death, even Judas makes the list.
It’s funny the people Jesus chooses to love. But when you go back a look closely at what he is doing in his ministry, it makes perfect sense. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Harassed and helpless are more literally translated “flayed open and turned upside down.” The language Jesus uses is shepherds language. It referred to sheep who had run through a thicket, lacerating themselves on the thorns and others who had fallen, who life was upside down and incapable of turning itself back onto its feet. Harassed and helpless, “flayed open and turned upside down” like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus is the good shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep, who himself was “flayed open and turned upside down”. The shepherd who substitutes his life for sinners. Who loves us, his neighbor.
And this is the amazing thing, the same ones he has compassion on, who receive his compassion by faith, are the same ones that give it just as he gives it. Those who get grace, give grace. They are called from the crowd and commissioned back to the crowd because Christ has loved them.
The crowd is already around you. You don’t need to escape your ordinary world to find it. The crowd is the neighbor God has given to you in your vocations, family, employee, citizen, and church. Christ calls us, he commissions us, and loves us. May we call on him to give us eyes to see the harvest as he sees it, and send us out into his fields.