As I have stated elsewhere, our church’s “mission statement”—which is simply our way of putting a biblical gospel mission into our own words—is: “Worshiping God and welcoming all, with gospel truth and neighbor love.” That fits well with this current Servants of Grace series about loving our neighbor. Neighbor love is a worthy focus, given that Jesus himself made such a high priority of it (Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28).
Some of the better known words ever spoken by our Lord address the question of neighbor love with poetic poignancy (Matthew 25:35-43). Jesus’ future Judgment Day words to those who have done neighbor love well, “I was hungry, and you gave me food…” are counterbalanced by his words to those who have not, “I was hungry, and you gave me no food…” This text shows us that Jesus identifies very closely with his “brothers” (i.e.-those who believe in him); so much so that whether or not we have fed his hungry brothers is equal either to feeding or not feeding him (Matthew 25:40, 45). The same goes for how we respond to the wandering stranger, the imprisoned, the naked, and the sick.
We should probably note that we are to share a similar care for those outside the faith-family as well, even though they are not his brothers (Galatians 6:9, 10; Luke 10:25-37). The call to neighbor love—expressed in meeting our neighbors’ needs at the most basic physical/material/social level—is so strongly emphasized in Scripture that it needs to find a place in our everyday mission and neighborhood mindset. Indeed, neighbor love, expressed in generosity, kindness, mercy, justice, and gospel-witness, is to be, and will be, the authentic Christian’s way of life:
- Neighbor love is the good that the Lord requires of us (Micah 5:8).
- Neighbor love is the weightier part of God’s Law (Matthew 23:23, 24).
- Neighbor love is the true fast that God chooses (Isa. 58:6-11).
- Neighbor love is the standard by which we will be judged (Matthew 25:35-43).
- Neighbor love is what Good Samaritans do (Luke 10:25-37).
- Neighbor love is the essence of pure religion (James 1:27).
- Neighbor love is a vital sign that shows our faith is alive (James 2:14-17).
- Neighbor love is the proof that we love others (1 John 3:16-18).
- Neighbor love is what we have to sow if we want to reap eternal rewards (Gal. 6:6-10).
- Neighbor love is what we fail to do to our own peril (Prov. 24:11, 12).
- Neighbor love is what God from his throne of judgment commands us to do (Psa. 82:1-4).
With all of this in mind, I’ve tried to imagine how Jesus might continue his Matthew 25 thoughts today—in light of neighborhood needs, current news, racial biases, class conflicts, and human crises the world over. How might he express his concern over our failure to welcome, respect, dignify, and care for all, with neighbor love? Would it go something like this?
I was a stranger, and you never befriended me.
I was hungry, and you shared none of your bread.
I was rich, and you assumed my greed.
I was poor, and you ignored my need.
I was homeless, and you passed by on the other side.
I was addicted, and, without pity, you criticized my weakness.
I was with child, but without a husband, and you gave only, that look.
I was a single mom, and you thought a prayer and a smile would do.
I was the unborn, and you chose your liberty over my life.
I was born with nothing, and into something you expected me so easily to become.
I was without much that you had, and you denied any advantage.
I was born into privilege, and you pegged me as an oppressor.
I was left home alone, and you scolded that I wandered the streets.
I was schooled with rust and peeling paint, and you faulted only my effort.
I was without a father, and you, while condemning him, ignored me.
I was happy as a child, and you shamed me for my joy.
I was black, and you thought you knew my type.
I was white, and you refused to trust my kind.
I was of darkened hue in a whitened world, and you never asked how it felt.
I was light of skin, and you assumed my bigotry.
I was unaware, and you quickly judged that I did not care.
I was angry, and you assumed there was no cause.
I was told you were superior, and you wondered why I felt beaten down.
I was believed to be inferior, and you imagined there was no wound.
I was a Democrat, and you thought me entitled.
I was Republican, and you questioned my compassion.
I was for the President, and you thought me a deplorable.
I was afraid of the man, and you branded me a hater.
I was articulate, and you wondered, How?
I was destitute, and you called me trash.
I was dressed in blue, and you dissed me, the Pig.
I was angry at injustice, and you hissed me, a Thug.
I was cuffed without crime, and you saw no wrong.
I was badged to protect, and you cared not the cost.
I was booked, and you thought you could read me.
I was in the blue line of fire, and you dismissed my peril.
I was desperate, and you criticized my protest.
I was sure that it wasn’t yet over, and you told me to get over it now.
I was a minority, and you pegged me for trouble.
I was a majority, and you judged me a bigot.
I was single, and you made no room at your table.
I was married, and you left me alone in the abuse.
I was turban crowned, and you walked the other way.
I was tatted up, and you passed by on the other side.
I was old and tired, and you shuffled me out of sight.
I was challenged with special needs, and you acted like I wasn’t there.
I was on the outside, and you never let me in.
I wanted to belong, and you refused to have me.
We say that we love you and our neighbor, too—
And yet they are still over there where they have long been;
And we are still right here; worlds apart, with little heart.
When shall our worlds wed?
When shall we hold the embrace?
When shall we meet at the Cross, where love and justice kissed—where guilty sin was punished
and weary sinners pardoned?
When shall we meet at the Cross, where every war-torn sinner for whom you died—of
whatever gender, ethnicity, class, party, or color distinction they may be—can find some
level ground on which to stand, and a single Savior whom to love?
Help us to find our way back to Calvary.
That we may find each other there.
For o Lord, inasmuch as we have done it unto the least of these, we have done it unto you. Amen.