Love your neighbor as yourself. The commandment is found in the Torah, and it was reiterated by Yeshua and the apostles. Do we really know what it means?
We might be inclined to think that “neighbor” means “our friend,” but Yeshua clarifies the meaning in the story of the Good Samaritan. We learn that the definition of “neighbor” extends beyond geography, religion, and race. In fact, Yeshua tells us that we should even love our enemies. Wow. So how far do we take this? I mean, to be honest, when someone walks in the room that I strongly dislike, I don’t get bubbly feelings of love in my heart. Good thing that “bubbly feelings” is not what “love your neighbor” means.
The commandment to love your neighbor refers not to feelings but actions. The point is how we treat a person. The Torah knows that our hearts are not always in the right place. We read in Exodus:
If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it. (Exodus 23:5 NKJ)
Notice it reads “and you would refrain from it.” God knows us well. Let’s be honest. If we see our enemy in distress, our first reaction is to be happy about their sufferings and want to walk on by thinking that’s what they deserve. However, God commands us to help them out and show them some love. Again, it’s not about feeling but action.
I read a story recently about a man named Bob Welch whose twenty-three-year-old daughter was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Domestic terrorists blew up a federal building in Oklahoma, killing 168 people and injuring 680 others. The main culprit was a man named Timothy McVeigh. Understandably, Welch went through a period of hatred and anger toward McVeigh for what he had done to his daughter. Then he remembered that his daughter had always been a strong advocate for reconciliation and love. Although Welch had no chance to visit with McVeigh himself, he decided to visit McVeigh’s dad and family. He learned to love them, and he said that the whole experience made him feel closer to God than ever. He did the unthinkable and forgave McVeigh. It was OK for Welch to be angry. Who wouldn’t be? And he probably didn’t have warm butterflies about visiting McVeigh’s family. But he did. He followed the Master’s call, and it changed his life.
The Master even says that we are to make things right with people not only when we have a problem with them but even when they have a problem with us. How far do we take this? I read another story, this time about a rabbi’s response to a Jewish attack on a Palestinian cab driver. On the West Bank in the city of Bat Ayin, a Jewish man threw a Molotov cocktail at a Palestinian taxi, and the driver was badly burnt. Episodes like this further Arab animosity toward these Jewish settlers. Even though he had nothing to do with the incident, Rabbi Shaul Judelman, who works to bring peace between Arabs and Jewish settlers, went to the cab driver and his family. He spoke with them and prayed with them in an attempt to bring healing. He wanted to be an ambassador for the Jewish people and show them the Torah is first and foremost about love. He wanted to show them that this type of violence does not represent the Jewish people. Some of the rabbi’s neighbors thought he was crazy; others were inspired to visit the injured Arab as well. What do actions like this bring? Healing and love into one of the most hate-filled situations on the face of the earth.
Both of these stories are examples of extreme love for one’s neighbor. They represent going above and beyond what most people think is reasonable. But as I read these stories, they seem to represent the radical love to which the Messiah is calling us. How far should we take this commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? A corollary question might be asked, “Is there a limit to God’s love?” Every time we express love to our neighbor we are expressing God’s love for humanity. In my opinion, there is no limit on either.