Loving the Unneighborly

Not every neighbor is lovable. When our Lord commanded us, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” he was himself addressing a gathering of neighbors—the Pharisees—who regarded him as an enemy (Mt. 22:34-46).

“Hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees,” they might have paused to give thanks, but instead they took it as an opportunity to expose his deficiencies in an area they believed to be under their own masterful control: the Mosaic law.

Christ’s verbal answer to their question, “which is the great commandment in the law,” is unimpeachable: to love God first, and in like manner one’s neighbor as oneself.

Implicit in loving one’s neighbor as oneself, when one loves God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, is the desire to see one’s neighbor love God in a similar fashion.

It follows that, if one finds one’s neighbor in a state of rebellion against God—and who has not been in such a state, at least occasionally, if not habitually?—one will seek to rescue him from that damnable predicament, if at all possible.

Our Lord is therefore demonstrating love of neighbor when he proceeds to expose the ignorance of the Pharisees, about the very identity of the God they pretend to serve.

“What think you of Christ? Whose son is he?” Easy enough, they believe: “David’s.”

“How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool?”

Why would David call his son Lord?

“No man,” the Pharisees included, “was able to answer him a word; neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”

In the first instance, our Lord stumps the Pharisees by demonstrating that his claim to be the Son of God is not contrary to, but a fulfillment of the law they wrongly pride themselves in teaching.

Even more, however, Christ is reminding them what awaits those who, like these envious neighbors, make themselves his enemies. They who think to silence him by handing him over to crucifixion, will soon find themselves in the painful position of propping up his lower extremities.

The love our Lord is modelling for us here is a tough love, indeed. As Christians, we ought not to fear admonishing our brothers, for the alternative—abandoning them to a fate no one ought to wish on his worst enemy—is the opposite of charity.

At the same time, let us not forget that charity—including tough love—begins at home. Before we can assist the unneighborly neighbor staring us down, we need to examine another neighbor whose face is harder to see, but whose attitude may be even more hostile to our wellbeing: the neighbor within.

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