Inspired by Ephesians 1:18 (NRSV) “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
Our house sits on the southwest corner of an intersection. If you stand in front of our living room window, you have the view of a neighborhood in transition, one that is barely holding on to its dignity. It’s a neighborhood where children are dying and residents are losing hope.
The other day, I observed a group of teachers marching around the school up the block. Brandishing picket signs and chanting in unison, they advertised to all who cared to listen that they were on strike.
By now, the teachers were close enough so I could read the fine print on their placards. Lower class sizes. Social workers. Counselors. Librarians and Nurses. Time for teachers to prepare. Respect and adequate pay.
At one point, the procession paused in front of the abandoned house across the street. Against that backdrop, I remembered teenagers who used to hang out in small groups on the front stoop. I saw the cars that used to stop in the middle of the street as money and packages were exchanged through open windows. I pictured the young man who stumbled out of the car after he had been shot by his companion while playing with a gun. I recalled the posture of their grandfather as he stood there looking worn down and defeated.
Be that as it may. Through the eyes of my heart, I visualized a level playing field, where young men and women did not have to hang out on stoops because they had no place else to go. I fantasized about a world where everyone had an equal chance for success. I fixed my sights on a system where structural racism, poverty, and despair had been eliminated.
As the picketers continued to march, I cheered them on! And, I prayed for them as they shouldered the burdens of society-at-large, chanting and fighting the good fight on behalf of the next generation.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
This scripture is timely. It comes during a period in contemporary history when we are being sent mixed messages about who we should love and who we should hate. Here, Jesus uses love as a standard for righteousness. The kind of love Jesus teaches changes lives and transforms communities. Jesus challenged the powers of his day by presenting to them a radically different way of relating to each other. He invited his listeners into relationships that weren’t directed by existing political structures. The kind of relationships Jesus preached about went beyond the letter of the law and promoted actions that transform, redeem, and create a new life and new circumstances. In the context described by Jesus, love becomes an action verb. What we’re talking about here is Agape, the selfless love of one person for another, especially love that is spiritual or divine. Scripture tells us to love our neighbor as well as our enemies, although members of specific segments of the present-day population don’t seem to know the difference between neighbors and enemies.
Loving neighbors means treating all people with dignity and respect due to all human beings. Loving neighbors means looking for the good in people, not finding ways to diminish their character. Loving neighbors means building bridges, not building walls. It means providing for those who are troubled, not closing mental health clinics. It means providing for the sick, not abolishing healthcare millions of people. Loving neighbors means welcoming refugees who seek asylum, not canceling visas and closing borders. When it comes to loving our neighbors, Jesus applies such agape love to everyone, everywhere. That includes our so-called enemies.