“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is this so hard? Really, we were almost all taught this by someone in our lives. It makes sense. Most people would agree that love is critical to the world, in fact essential. So, why is it hard? We could probably point to many reasons, but let’s focus on two.
First, our neighbor. Let’s just admit it. This is a safe place. Our neighbors are not always lovable. My grandparents had a neighbor that we affectionately called, “The Machine Gun Lady.” Her windows opened as little slits and every time that our ball wandered into her yard, the windows would open and she would pleasantly yell, “Stay out of my yard!” While she never threatened beyond the shouting, we were certain that she would take the shot if she had it. She was a hard-to-love neighbor. She is not the only one. The jerk that cuts you off on the road, the person who sneers at your crying child in the grocery store, the co-worker who has to forward you email that they get with ALL CAPS – all hard-to-love neighbors.
Second, us. There it is. We did not dance around the first one, let’s not dance around this one either. The truth is, we don’t always want to love. We want things to go our way. We want things for ourselves. We ask questions like, “Is it too much to ask for my ship to come in?” We are self-centered. I guess we can fully say, we are also hard-to-love neighbors!
Is there anything we can do then? Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Our love is made possible by the love of Jesus. His forgiveness covers our “hard-to-love” nature. His forgiveness is our strength to love. In fact, Paul knows this, and so he writes, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Those fruits are the attributes of a loving neighbor – our call as forgiven and free children of God. Hard? Yes; in fact, impossible by human effort. But not with God. We are filled with the fruits of the Spirit that we use to love our neighbor – even the hard-to-love ones – because we know that Jesus has loved us though we were the same.