“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ (Luke 10:25-29)
Like many of you, I have been preoccupied lately with our nation’s presidential primaries. For me, they have “primarily” been a reflection of what is wrong with our nation rather than a source of hope for our future.
Christie and I have wrestled with which candidate we can support and even how we should pray. Then, during a recent snow day, we watched a 1941 black & white movie called “Meet John Doe”.
The movie was produced and directed by Frank Capra, who also directed the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The setting is America shortly before we entered World War II, and two themes are interwoven.
The first theme portrays how those with financial and political power will use the media to manipulate the public for their own agendas. Sound familiar?
The second theme concerns how the every-day citizen can break free from being a pawn in these power struggles and find a life filled with more community, hope and joy.
Gary Cooper plays a homeless man hired by a newspaper to be “John Doe” and give speeches to the public that are actually written by one of their reporters. The messages encourage the public (the other “John Doe’s”) to see they are neither helpless nor hopeless because they can care for one another. “Be a better neighbor”. “Treat each other every day like we treat each other at Christmas.”
These simple messages ignite a wonderful movement. John Doe clubs are formed all across the nation. As people connect, they help each other. Lives and communities are transformed.
For the rest of the plot, see this great movie. The summaries on the Internet do not do it justice. What I have described here is sufficient, however, to explain what the Lord spoke into my heart as I watched.
“Be a better neighbor” and “Treat each other like we do at Christmas” really mean we are to love our neighbor. All Christians know this is part of the Great Commandment: love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself. What too many Christians in America are failing to do is correctly answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus identified our neighbor in Luke 10 through the parable of the Good Samaritan. The rifts between his Jewish audience and Samaritans provided a perfect example to make His point. How many examples do you think the Lord could make use of in our nation today?
Then, just in case we choose to somehow limit the lesson of the Good Samaritan, Jesus adds the lessons of love in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:43-48) Don’t just love people who agree with you or are nice to you. Love the people who are opposed to you. Pray for them. Show them hospitality. Don’t treat them the way they treat you. Treat them the way you want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12)
As a Christian gladly submitted to the authority of the Bible, I believe abortion and homosexual marriage are contrary to God’s will. And I believe Islam’s insistence that God has no Son is a horrible lie deceiving millions of people.
I also believe in fiscal responsibility, national security, the proper interpretation of our Constitution, and enforcement of the law.
On the other hand, politically speaking, I hate the residual impact of our nation’s history of racism, particularly in how it has trapped the urban black poor, and feel we should spend the time and money necessary to correct those wrongs. I hate pollution even if it doesn’t cause climate change. And I know illegal Mexican immigrants would never flock to our country if there weren’t American employers eager to put them to work.
How then am I to feel toward and treat the many people out there who oppose my values and beliefs? My Lord says I am to love them. I am to value their lives, have care and compassion for them, and treat them with respect.
This does not mean I set aside my beliefs or fail to share them. I am also not asked to ignore the steps necessary within these bounds of love to provide security for my family, community or nation.
God has made it clear to me, however, that if I don’t get love right, I won’t get anything right. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)
My proposal to all Christians is that in this election year, and for every year thereafter, we become active members in God’s version of a John Doe club: the “Love Your Neighbor” Club.
And when we are looking for our best candidates for President, look for those whose words and lives of service reflect that they are active members as well.
God bless you, and God bless our community