Does love mean valentines and chocolates and red roses? (Some time I’ll tell you about my cat Felix who really liked it when my husband would bring me roses when we were first married–he thought roses were perfectly delicious!)
Or does love mean sacrifice, the kind of sacrifice that a mother might make to give her child a good start in life? Maybe love means delighting in someone’s company, or maybe it means untiring service, as a middle-aged daughter might give to her aging mother. Or maybe love means all these things–and more.
Throughout scripture (see, for example, I Corinthians 13; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8), we are told in so many words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Does this mean I have to feel sweet and sentimental toward those snotty kids down the block? No, of course not–that’s not what it means at all.
Jesus tells us in the parable of the Good Samaritan who our neighbor is and how we love them: Our neighbor is the person who needs help. And we love our neighbor by stepping up and helping.
Our neighbor is our equal
Notice that we’re talking about our neighbor–our equal. It doesn’t matter if our neighbor is rich or poor, speaks the same language we do or not, worships the same way we do or not, or even loves the same kinds of people we love. No, our neighbor is our neighbor, no matter what.
And we are to love our neighbor by wanting and working toward what’s right for her. If our neighbor is hungry, we work to make sure she has food. If she’s sick, we work to make sure she’s cared for. If she’s in trouble or danger, we work to make sure she’s safe.
And we work to make the world a better place–not just for us, but for all of us. That’s loving our neighbor. That’s the love that leads to justice.
Audrey Novak Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA.
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