One of the scribes came near and heard Jesus and the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Just the other night, I received a text message from one of my next door neighbors, that read, “Check your front porch. Dropping something off.”
When I opened the door, to my surprise there sat a large basket full of food staples and some delightful goodies. The card attached featured a picture of Mr. Rogers with the words, “Hey Neighbor.” Judy and I were the recipients of a surprise gift of generosity.
Only days before, my neighbor Daniel had called to check on Judy and me as he hadn’t seen us in our regular pattern of coming and going. I let him know then that I was on self-quarantine and that we were faring well.
It occurred to me in that very moment that my next door neighbors had expressed a true act of love. The kind of thoughtful and compassionate love that Jesus is referring to in our reading from Mark’s gospel. In our lesson, when questioned by one of the scribes about the greatest commandment, Jesus gave him a clear answer: the greatest among many things that man could do is to love. To love God wholly and totally (with one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength) and to love one’s neighbor as ourselves are the greatest commandments of all. These two are inseparable. This message is particularly important for us to hear right now.
While we have had other times of uncertainty, we are facing something unlike anything we’ve lived through before, so that commandment to love has an even deeper meaning. As Christians, we need to reach out in tangible ways to let our neighbors know that they are loved, and part of loving our neighbors is reminding them they are not alone. We are in this together.
Loving our neighbors during this unsettling period can be reflected in a variety of ways. It could be an encouraging phone call to those who are isolated and fearful or making a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy for sick or elderly family, friends, and yes, the neighbor next door. It is buying supplies to share and not hoard.
Even in these times of social distancing, we can safely reach out in mercy and love. So as we and the entire world live into the weeks ahead, may we commit ourselves to the greatest commandment we’ve received as followers of Jesus: to love God and love neighbor as we love ourselves.
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy. Sustain and support the anxious, be with those who care for the sick, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
(The Church of England)
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