Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 1:29-31 (NLT)]
Last summer, we enjoyed beautiful sand sculptures created by Bil Pavlacka on Coronado beach. One had been constructed as a memorial to the seven sailors who died on the destroyer Fitzgerald that month. It was not Pavlacka’s first memorial; he’s sculpted sand to honor a Navy Seal killed in Iraq and to recognize the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting and the Paris and Brussels attacks. Those sculptures were labors of love—love for people he never personally knew but people he knew were his neighbors.
What a contrast his work is to the bumper stickers I recently saw on a truck parked beside us. There didn’t seem to be a minority group the driver wasn’t anxious to hate, insult or possibly worse since the back window also sported a “License to Kill Arabs.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 917 hate groups (such as white nationalists, black separatists, racist skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and anti-Semitic zealots) currently operate in the United States. Based on his bumper stickers, the truck’s owner must have belonged to several of them. How easy it is to spout hate for people we don’t even know; yet, they are our neighbors!
We are called to love one another—not romantic (eros) or friendship (philia) love—but agape or unconditional sacrificial love—like the love God had for us when he sacrificed His son and the love the good Samaritan had for a total stranger. It has nothing to do with attraction, affection or even liking one another. Agape love isn’t emotional; it is a choice. It also happens be one of God’s commands.
Agape love is like building an intricate sandcastle; it takes time, effort, dedication and patience. On the other hand, hate is like those bumper stickers or a well-placed kick aimed at a sandcastle; it is thoughtless and destructive. Jesus doesn’t ask us to like everyone but He does expect us to love them—to be kind, considerate, understanding, patient, tolerant, polite, and good to them. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it on our own—the Holy Spirit empowers us to love one another as God loves us. Like building a sand castle, however, it doesn’t come easy and there will be times our efforts fail. Nevertheless, we must keep at it until we get it right. What we can’t do is take the easy way out with hate!
It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor. [Martin Luther]