"Jesus replied:...`Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37,39).
Dr. Karl Menninger, the often quoted authority on mental illness, said, "Love is the medicine for our sick old world." Few would disagree! Yet it is one thing to love the masses of the world--say, for example, China with its 1.4 billion people, and another thing to love the Chinese family who owns the local hardware store. Soren Kierkegaard wisely points out the fact that there is nothing in the Bible about loving man in the mass--only clear commands about loving individuals.
To talk about loving your fellowman is noble and elevating, something which warms the heart. That, of course, requires no personal adjustment, no involvement. You are on the warmer side of the human heart to talk about love in a generic, undefined sense. It is when we talk about loving family members whose personalities grate against yours, or loving individuals with whom you work who are inconsiderate and rude, people who are not very lovable, that love becomes intensely personal and costly.
Loving someone who is your equal, who is a reflection of your own culture and value system, isn't terribly difficult, but what about the individuals who are different from us, who haven't seen soap and bath water for days, whose dirty and disheveled appearance disgusts our sense of propriety? What about them?
As I left my hotel room in Hong Kong early one morning and walked to a nearby McDonald's for a cup of coffee, I noticed a homeless woman, her feet bare and very dirty, lying on a doorway, her inert body covered by a dirty blanket. I stopped for a few moments, wondering what I should do. I quietly asked myself, "If Jesus were here, what would He do? Put money at the corner of her dirty blanket? Wash her feet? Invite her to a restaurant? Or what?" Frankly, I'm not sure of the answer.
Obviously, I can't meet the needs of all the hurting, loveless people in the world. Neither can you. Yet, my indecision, wondering what I should do to help the Chinese woman who slept on the doorway of a building, finally meant that I did nothing at all. I turned and quietly walked away with some feelings of guilt and a great deal of uncertainty. Yes, I told myself there was a good chance that we couldn't even speak the same language, and, of course, I thought my giving money might just contribute to her alcoholism or drug addiction.
But there is one thing for sure: I can do something about my neighbor, my family, and my contemporaries. I can communicate with them. There are a host of needs which I can address. It was this which Jesus was driving at when he told the disciples that they should love their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:39). But Jesus went beyond that. He said we are to love our enemies as well. And he made it clear that ours is not to be a shallow, superficial kind of love. He said, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
There is a price attached to love, and there can be no real love without pain, without personal cost. A closing thought. If one person--one individual desperately in need of love--crossed your path, you could do something about that, right? But if a vision of the masses of an Asian village confronted you, a sense of despair would overwhelm you. The need which confronts you today is your opportunity to do something, to love someone, to make a difference in the life of a hurting, lonely person. Do it today and you'll sense the presence of Jesus as you do so.
Resource Reading: Mark 12:28-34