I heard a great message by our Pastor at Mt. Juliet FBC this past Sunday. He shared the story of the good Samaritan and made it come alive once again to me. The premise he started out with was simple...
"You cannot love God and not love your neighbor; conversely, you cannot not love your neighbor and love God."
A teacher of the Law had come to test Jesus. The teacher asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" To which Jesus turned the tables and asked a question back to the teacher of the Law, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"
Without answering the question, Jesus answered it. His question back to the teacher of the Law was to reveal the teacher's "yoke", or the burden that the teacher himself placed on others because of his beliefs. The teacher answered well from the Shema of the Torah by saying, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus told him that he answered well and that if he did this, he would live!
But the teacher, wanting to justify himself, asked, "Who is my neighbor?" to which Jesus replies with the story of the good Samaritan.
What Jesus did in that short story was to dissect the heart of the teacher. He also dissects our hearts as well.
The point is that we not try to define who our neighbors are. The teacher of the Law wanted a strict definition of neighbor so that he could exclude those who weren't from his culture or even class. In other words, if his "neighbors" were only those people like himself (e.g. other teachers of the Law), he would find it easy to love them. However, Jesus shattered that idea by showing that the definition of "who" is our neighbor is infinitely insignificant to "how" we respond in a "neighborly way" to those in need that we encounter no matter who they are or where they are from.
It is easy for me to love others who are like me. It just isn't natural for me to love enemies or people that I don't know. I find it pretty easy to drive by the person on the side of the road needing help. I can find all kinds of excuses to justify doing so: I'm in a hurry, I'm on an important mission, I pass a value judgement on that person and just know that he/she is going to waste money on booze or something else if I give them some...the list goes on and on.
How do I love God? Take a look at how I love others. That should give you a clue and many times, it's not a pretty sight.