Love God…Do You Love Your Neighbor?
Now we find ourselves again at the very heart of our Christian faith. John tells the truth when he writes that If we say that we love God, but hate our brother, we are liars. It is the worst kind of lie too. It is an hypocrisy. Jesus is the love of God in the flesh. When we see Jesus, we see the Father. John puts the final touch on his argument with the next verse: “This is the commandment we have from him; whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (verse 21)
Of course, the next question is, “Who is my brother?” And Jesus has answered that question for us in many ways that are consistent with today’s verse. The first is in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 3. When Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at a house that he was teaching in they were forced to stand outside because of the crowd. Those sitting around him told him that his mother and brothers were outside asking for him and he asked them this question, “Who are my mother and brothers?” He looks at those seated around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (verses 33-35)
At another time he is asked a similar question: “Who is my neighbor?” And he answers that question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:29-37) How often have we heard these passages and nodded in agreement in the safety of our pews full of love for God? Yet, how many of us have heard this message while caught up in the bitterness and anger of some real or imagined hurt caused to us by a family member, a friend, or a co-worker, and not realized that we are caught up in the “lie” that John is describing here. It is a lie to say we love God and at the same time hate our brother! Jesus reminds us of this when he tells us: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:22)
In Jesus we have come face to face with the kind of love that is required of us as Christians. In him we see that at the very heart of love is the virtue of forgiveness. In Jesus we see that the Father’s love for us could not be contained. He expressed his unconditional, eternal love for us in Jesus. And Jesus has commanded us to be that same love in this world today. When we allow ourselves to hate our brother or sister, we turn away from this commandment. It is not easy, of course. We can not do it by sheer willpower alone. We need the grace of God to be able to overcome our hatreds, our prejudices. But, as Christians, we know that God is swift to give us those graces when we turn to him in love and humility. If our hearts are filled up with hatred, there can be no room in them for love. Love is of God, John tells us. “Everyone who loves is begotten by God…for God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” (1 John 4:7-8, 11-12)
Lord, where there is anger in us, sow your grace of love and forgiveness. Help us to live your commandment to love our brothers and sisters in the manner that you loved us more dearly every day. Give us the courage of a growing love for you that will enable us to forgive and to love those who have done us injury, and so that they might come to know your love through us. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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