Friday, April 13, 2012
THE ROYAL LAW
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus brought this subject up many times as He ministered to the people. This week He reminded the rich young man that keeping the law was not effective in itself to save our souls, no matter how hard we try, even to the point of trying to love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot achieve these goals on our own. It is impossible. That is why He came.
James uses the Royal Law to remind the church that God is serious about us loving our neighbors and reminds them that anything short of freely given love is short of His instructions and commands to us. It becomes a hard lesson to be learned at the very core of living a life dedicated to Christ. Favoritism is forbidden. It is a sin as horrible as adultery or murder. It is intolerable in Christ’s name.
You may ask, “What?” How did “Love my neighbor” become “show no favoritism?”
As our table discussed the subject this week, we took note of how we actually show favoritism. Our church does not have many, if any, people who could be called rich, and the rich were the subject of James correcting letter. The people in the church had been playing favorites with the rich and giving them undue attention at the expense of the poor. Why? If given the chance, why would we? Financial and social benefits abound when your friends are rich. They can help the church grow bigger and faster. They can provide the extras that would be oh so nice to have. They can give more and therefore allow the church to do more. And maybe they will give a little to us, as well.
So we asked: How do we show favoritism then, if we do not favor the rich? Opportunities abound. Jesus never said, “Love some of your neighbors.” He told us to love them ALL. So let’s start there. Who do we smile our big smiles at when we see our neighbors? Do we smile just as big at the ones we wish lived in a different neighborhood, as we do to the ones we think are pretty nice people? Or do we even take the time to smile at our neighbors? Do our neighbors even know that we know that they are alive? Many “neighbors” of people who are arrested, for instance, are stunned: But he seemed to be such a great guy. But they were so quiet; we had no idea that was going on there. We really can’t say for sure if we are right about people, just by looking at them, but we sure try. And we behave accordingly by according some high praise and big smiles while frowning at or avoiding looking at some others.
And what about Sunday greetings? Do we ever seek out faces we do not know and greet them, just because? Not everyone is extroverted enough to do that, but we all can be more aware of strangers (to us) and willing to at least smile at them… right? Or, I guess the official greeters can handle all of that for us. But then during the service we might be asked to greet one another… Oh, dear, where are my friends so I can shake their hands?
And that brings me to socializing within the church. When there is a social activity we love to take time to visit with friends that we do not get to see all the time. Understandable. But we have opportunities to make choices there, too. What about the warn-out looking lady sitting by herself and watching the parade go by? Does anyone want to go sit by her and get acquainted instead of keeping busy with friends we already have. And what if she is “not quite” up to our standards of appearance? Shouldn’t we stay with our own kind and be safe?
One of the stumbling blocks that kept being thrown at me during my first couple of years in my new church was exactly that. I would get there early, (I make a really bad Baptist that way,) and I would pick a place to sit down and no one would come and sit near me let alone by me. That was really hard. Once I took a new friend to a women’s social function and talked a bit with some who were already there, but then we found a table and sat down waiting for things to begin. It was not until there were absolutely no other choices of where to sit, that anyone joined us at our table. As my friend said later, “It felt like we were in High School again.” All I can say is that if you are too shy to do it alone then bring a friend, but somebody come and deliberately sit with those of us who are not your closest friends. I still come early to most activities, including church, but I have learned to take my time settling down and take opportunities to make those I do not know feel welcome and cared about.
It seems to me that “preferencing” comes from our own need to be noticed and held in high esteem, and from finding satisfaction in our “comfort” zone. God did not ask us to love our neighbors in order to be comfortable. He expects us to love no matter how uncomfortable it may make us feel, and to love with action such as reaching out a hand and inviting others to share what we have in Christ.
May we be always aware of new people who enter our lives at God’s bidding and may we be willing to step forward and be a friend, whether at home in our neighborhood, at church, or on the road among strangers. May we approach and be approachable for Christ.
And may I stop using my inability to see and hear well as an excuse for sitting “down front” when there are people in the back who need a friend. Talk about a comfort zone.