Sitting with Our Neighbors

We divide ourselves so many times into so many categories that we lose sight of what is more important, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Rather than go over to the rock of someone that is different we tend to stay in our groups with people that are like us losing opportunities to share in their joy, love, grief or suffering. What makes Jesus so powerful to me is that he was willing to sit on anyone’s rock with them.
—Aaron Tiger

In the Gospel of Luke, one of the experts in the law asks Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says, and he replies, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). Jesus affirms that his response is correct, but that is not enough for him. “He wanted to justify himself,” so he asks the follow-up question, “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29). Jesus responds by telling him the parable of the good Samaritan.

To love our neighbors is to have mercy on them. It seems like a straightforward thing to do in the abstract, but in practice, so many things like to get in the way. We identify a person by their labels, by the groups they are a part of, rather than as someone who is made in God’s image and worthy of love and respect on that basis alone. We want to have a good reputation, and we are afraid of what people will think if they see us associating with this person. We are busy and don’t think we have the time. So we pass by, telling ourselves that it is someone else’s responsibility, or that we’ll reach out next time when things settle down a bit.

When we are busy, feel useful, are surrounded by others, and have a sense of belonging, we are like the birds in the main part of this photo. But other times we are like the bird in the shadow to the right: isolated, feeling like we don’t fit in, wondering if someone will see value in us. Jesus saw us sitting on a rock, alone, thinking there was nothing lovable about ourselves, and he came to sit with us. He didn’t have to do it, but he did.

What gives us the courage to sit with our neighbors on their rocks is knowing, in the deepest parts of ourselves, that Jesus did this for us. He was busy and could have passed us by. He was important, and his reputation could only suffer by associating with us. But he “made himself of no reputation,” as the King James of Philippians 2:7 says. He hung out with the outcasts, the “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 5:30). If we see ourselves as those to whom Jesus reached out when there was nothing attractive about us, we will have the eyes to see those to whom Jesus wants us to reach out.

I wrote this devotional to accompany the above photo by Aaron Tiger as part of the Art Wall at Bellingham Covenant Church.