by Omolola Oriogun
I once asked my mentor the question “who exactly is my neighhbour?” Is it my own family members or the next door families to my right and to my left, the next person beside me in the public bus or the driver to a taxi that picked me up or my hired driver that gets paid monthly?
Her response stunned me when she said..”The entire human race GOD created is your neighbour.” In shock I said, “no way.Are you telling me to love a hired assassin, a robber, a rapist, a fraud, the killers in the Northern part of my country? No way!!!” She didn’t argue with me but took me down Bible lane.
Stripped of all the theological debates and boiled down to its raw essence, Christianity and Christians will be judged by two actions: how much we love GOD and how well we demonstrate this by loving our neighbour.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deut 6:5).
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt.22:36-40).
This is Christianity in a nutshell. But pushing these two great commands to the back pages of our practical theology has allowed Christians to join in with the world in separating along racial lines.
A clearer understanding of the priority these two commandments deserve should have us scrambling to figure out creative ways to demonstrate our love for one another. Understanding JESUS definition of “neighbour” should motivate us to show special love to those who don’t love us. Until Christians can admit to the importance JESUS put on loving our neighbour; until we can admit that not to do so weakens our gospel; it’s unlikely that we will go out of our way to “prove neighbour.” Instead, we will continue to pass by on the other side just like JESUS described in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-32.
Christians have used a strategy similar to this in our attempts to deal with the hard teachings of JESUS. We have separated basic principles of Scripture that GOD never intended to be separated, consequently robbing them of their intended power. The Bible is divided into two broad categories: “people and their relationship to GOD, and people and their relationships to other people.” Everything in Scripture falls under one or the other of these broad categories. In the third chapter of Genesis, man and woman broke their relationship with GOD by disobeying HIM and eating the fruit. In Genesis 4 Cain broke his relationship with his brother, Abel, when he killed him .The rest of the Bible is a record of GOD’s attempts to reconcile the human race back to Himself and to reconcile man back to man.
There’s a particular word GOD has being communicating to the world of Christians, even to the entire human race from the Bible and that word is Reconciliation. Apostle Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:18-19, “And all things are of GOD, who hath reconciled us to Himself by JESUS CHRIST, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that GOD was in CHRIST, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
JESUS in all HIS teachings about the greatest commandment never separated “loving GOD and loving your neighbour as yourself” from each other. Check throughout the old and new testaments, the two commandments are always together. Even when the Lawyer in Matt. 22 came to tempt HIM, JESUS responded with the two commandments, “Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, for this is the first and greatest commandment and Love your neighbour as yourself.” If we were the one responding, we would have stopped at the first one but JESUS didn’t because HE knows the heart of GOD concerning loving GOD and loving ourselves. Also, JESUS revealed to us what must be one of the most overlooked statements in Scripture: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Under these two categories falls everything that was taught by Moses and the prophets, and everything that JESUS taught, and everything that was taught by HIS disciples. Boiling it all down to its raw essence, “what GOD wants is for us to Love HIM and love our neighbour.”
We might think, how easy it is to quote the Bible verses that speak on love to GOD and to man but how it’s not easy to carry it out. Yes, it’s usually not easy to carry out or live the word of GOD that we read or hear from the pulpit because we’re humans. But GOD expects us to ask for HIS grace to enable us to love HIM and our fellowmen irrespective of culture, colour and character.
Separating loving GOD from loving your neighbour has cost many Christians a valuable witness to the power of GOD.
When JESUS was asked, “Who is the neighbour I’m supposed to love like myself?.” HE didn’t say “Your family,” or “the people of your neighborhood, people who are like you.”
For all practical purposes, JESUS turned the question into a racial issue. It was no coincidence that HE picked a Samaritan to demonstrate the meaning of neighbour to a Jewish expert in the law.
Jews didn’t see the Samaritans as their neighbours. “Samaritans were half-breeds, the scum of the earth, the outcasts.” The Jews believed that if a Jewish person’s shadow happened to touch a Samaritan’s shadow, it would contaminate the Jew and if a Samaritan woman entered a Jewish village, the entire village became unclean.
But in this story JESUS says that our neighbours are especially those people who ignore us, those people who separate themselves from us, those people who are afraid of us, those people we have the most difficulty loving and those people we feel don’t love us. These are our neighbours. In Matthew 5:46 JESUS says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” Anybody can do that.
Christianity doesn’t require any power when its only challenge is to do something that already comes naturally. But it will take a powerful gospel, a gospel with guts to enable us to love across all the barriers we erect to edify our own kind and protect us from our insecurities.
Sometimes, in my weak moments, I wish the lawyer who asked that question over two thousand years ago had never opened his mouth. But now, because he did, I am without excuse. I cannot plead ignorance to the question of race. Now, because of JESUS answer, I have to go beyond my comfort zone and embrace neighbours I would rather do without.
The answer to the question “And who is my neighbour?” has much to say about the priority we place on loving people who are different from ourselves, especially as it relates to our eternal future. Hidden behind JESUS simple lesson on helping others is an intense spotlight aimed right at one of our most serious blind spots – race.
It doesn’t take much imagination for each of us to figure out who JESUS would use as an example of “neighbour” in our own towns and cities.
1. For an Israeli, how about a Palestinian?
2. For a Jew, how about an Arab?
3. For a rich white, how about a black mother on welfare?
4. For a poor white, how about a middle-class black who got where he is through affirmative action?
5. For a black male, how about a white male; better yet, a pickup-driving, gun-toting, tobacco-chewing, baseball-cap-wearing white man who still refers to a black man as “boy”?
6. For a feminist, how about an insensitive, domineering male chauvinist?
7. For a suburban white family, how about the new black or Hispanic family that moved in down the street?
8. For a Nigerian, how about the Northerners that kill your country people everyday?
9. For all of us, how about the unmotivated, undisciplined, uneducated poor? Or an AIDS victim who contracted AIDS not through a transfusion but through homosexual activity or intravenous drug use?
Who would JESUS use as the neighbour if HE were speaking to you?
My beloved, it’s certain to me that one day you will be asked this question. How are you going to answer this question to your children and to the world at large?
Maybe the question is not being asked in words, but believe me, it’s being asked. Maybe you are not answering in words, but you are answering; if not in words, then surely in deeds. As the old saying goes, “Our lives speak so loudly that the world can’t hear what our mouth is saying.”
The Bible says: “If anyone says, ‘I love GOD,’ yet hates his brother (neighbour), he is a liar” (1 Jn 4:20).
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother (neighbour) in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of GOD be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”- (1 ]n 3:17-18).
A world confused about race needs to see a gospel with guts enough to break the idols of race, not only through our words but also through our deeds.
Love and pray for your neighbour!!!