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  • Wayne Chasney

Love Your Neighbor

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

When a lawyer tried to test Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the “Good” Samaritan. But the question wasn’t really about who my neighbor is. The question was who do I have to love?

According to Amy-Jill Levine, in Judaism there is a distinction between citizens, or neighbors, and strangers, or aliens. Citizens had certain rights much as U.S. citizens have rights that tourists and visitors to this country do not. However, just because they do not have the same rights does not mean you do not have to treat them with love. As Leviticus declares, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you.” The requirement is to love everyone.

As with so much of Judaism, and Christianity as well, this command grows out of memory. Remember, says Leviticus, you were once aliens yourselves.

During a great famine in the land, Joseph brought his family to live in Egypt (see Genesis 37-50), and there they grew in number. Over time, the Egyptians came to enslave the descendants of Joseph and forced them to work building great monuments. As it says in the book of Exodus, “they treated them harshly.”

Remember, you were once aliens yourselves.

Spiritual amnesia is when we forget. It is when we forget the foundational stories of our faith. It is when we forget the core lessons we have learned since Sunday school. It is when we forget to whom we belong and who we serve by virtue of our baptism in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Worst of all, spiritual amnesia is when we forget to love our neighbor as ourselves and instead, like the lawyer who tested Jesus, try to draw tight boundaries are who is, and who is not, our neighbor.

Echoing the Hebrew scriptures, Jesus made it clear. Our neighbor is any who have need, and any who have need is who we must love. Now go and do likewise.

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