“The most important (commandment),” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
Loving your neighbor means being generous to one another. Just as God has showered us with blessings, Jesus commands us to return the favor with those who live in our community.
Maggie Ballard, a resident of Wichita, Kansas, took Jesus’s commandment seriously and her efforts at loving her neighbors bore fruit. Quite literally, I might add. In much the same way that neighborhoods all over the country have created cabinet-like boxes with books inside for people to borrow and read, Maggie took the spirit of this generous effort to a new level. She, like many others around the country, has created a ‘box of blessing’ that serves as a small food pantry for the people in her neighborhood.
Maggie’s box is filled by her family and the broader community with food items, personal care items and even diapers. What makes their pantry unique, however, is the sense of anonymity that accompanies the gesture. People who are in need do not have to fear the shame that often accompanies food insecurity. Most visitors, Maggie reports, come during the evening.
"On Christmas Eve,” for example, “she watched as a family of three opened (their) box to find a bag of bagels and started eating them right there."
Maggie and her neighbors saw a need. And then, they devised a way that they could be charitable, fulfilling God’s commandment from Micah 6:8 to “love kindness.”
Of course, if we do not see the needs of our neighbors then how can we address them? When Jesus is asked to define who a neighbor is, Jesus tells the story of the generous Samaritan and the man who was in need. As the Bible tells us, the Samaritan saw the need, decided to help, shared his resources and even dedicated his personal finances to making sure that the wounded traveler was returned to health and wholeness.
This, brother and sisters, is what it looks like to ‘love kindness.’ This is what it looks like to be generous. This is what is looks like to love one’s neighbor.
But, not if we don’t see them.
Oh, we see them all right…that is, if we take the time to actually consider their plight. With so much need, and so much pain and suffering, the task of helping our neighbors seems hopeless. So, we turn our eyes--sometimes with judgment and with the internal suggestion that they are reaping what they’ve sown—away from our hurting neighbors.
This spirit of indifference that occasionally assaults us is not of God. And it’s something that we need to reckon with.
In 1999, acclaimed Holocaust survivor Ellie Wiesel gave a speech on indifference to the powerbrokers in Washington, D.C. Indifference, he suggests, means literally ‘no difference.’ He further defined indifference as “[a] strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.”
Wiesel suggested that indifference can be seductive. “It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest.”
Indifference, he argued, is more dangerous than anger because anger can birth a creative and necessary response. Indifference, however, is never creative.
“Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”
Loving our neighbor as Christ commands us to demands that we be creative; that we literally create a response to the needs around us.
And if you have trouble seeing the need, keep your eyes peeled for Christ. For where we see pain and suffering, we’ll find the Son of God. He’s already there with them. And he’s waiting there for you and for me.