What does it mean to love our neighbor?
Letting divine Love animate our interactions helps to bring out the best in ourselves and others.
“It starts with our neighbors. Love your neighbor like you would love yourself. Maybe that’s where we need to start.”
That’s the message that Brandon Amor, who grew up in Uvalde, Texas, shared with Monitor reporters in the aftermath of the school shooting there a few weeks ago. It gave me hope for our communities and the world, because it’s something we can all participate in – wherever we live, whatever our background. And it got me thinking: What does it mean to truly love our neighbor?
I can’t help but look to Christ Jesus, who was really the master of this. He loved everybody! His healing ministry embraced people of all stripes. His teachings were for all humanity, for all time.
The thing is, though, Jesus wasn’t just “being nice.” On the contrary, he never hesitated to rebuke whatever wasn’t consistent with God’s law of goodness. What enabled him to do all he did was genuinely living love – reflecting the limitless love of God, who is infinite Love.
This Love is so pure, it doesn’t even know anything unlike itself. Yet being infinite, it knows all that truly exists. And the Bible makes clear that God, Spirit, not only knows us (see, for instance, Psalms 139:1), but created us in His very image. It follows, then, that there’s much more to us than meets the eye. We are not emotion-driven mortals, but spiritual – made to love and be loved, to express goodness, to radiate the wonderful qualities that God expresses in all of us as His children.
And what better way to love our neighbor than to strive to live this beautiful God-given identity, and to see everyone else in this light, too – capable of doing good, worthy of love?
When we’re starting from this basis, loving our neighbor becomes an actual force for healing and harmony, because it has the might and power of God behind it. It doesn’t overlook what’s inconsistent with God, with good, but contributes to dissolving it.
Here’s a small example. One day I was running errands, when another customer began arguing loudly and angrily with the cashier. After a minute or two, still ranting, she turned around and glared at the rest of us in line behind her.
I was about to give her an exasperated look and snap “Seriously?” when it occurred to me that this would be neither loving nor helpful. So instead I mentally reached out to God: “Help me see this woman the way You do.” And it was as if a veil lifted. I felt a conviction that the antagonism simply wasn’t her, couldn’t touch the true, spiritual nature of any of us. The pull to react snarkily vanished; now my impulse was to smile. And I did.
The woman paused mid-sentence, turned back to the cashier, and quietly apologized. As she calmly walked away, she thanked those of us in line for our patience.
Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes, “To love one’s neighbor as one’s self, is a divine idea; but this idea can never be seen, felt, nor understood through the physical senses” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 88). When we’re willing to let divine Love inform how we think about and act toward others, then we’re playing our part in helping to bring out the best in them and us.