Friday, April 16 2021 - 8:03 PM
boys playing basketball
Photo by Dreamstime

Love Your Neighbor

Many years ago, I lived in a small Eskimo village called Gambell, Alaska. Gambell is on an island in the middle of the Bering Sea, and the winters are very, very cold. One of the favorite activities of the residents of Gambell on those dark, cold winter nights is playing basketball. The high school opens its doors on the evenings of certain days of the week for “open-gym night.” Dozens of young people turn out for these pick-up games on gym night. So, being a newcomer in the village and wanting to get to know people, I figured I’d give it a try.

I Wanted to Play

I was not the best basketball player in the village, but I could hold my position under the basket when I needed to! When I walked into the gym, there was already quite a crowd, but I didn’t see any similarly white guys like myself. I felt like the typical “sore thumb” that stuck out in the crowd. For the first time in my life, I was the minority dramatically.

They all spoke English (and Yupik), but none bothered to say anything to me. It was not that they were mean to me; they weren’t. But neither were they particularly welcoming…So I mixed in the crowds shooting baskets, warming up for the games. Finally, someone made a move to start forming teams. We all lined up to shoot free throws and earn our spot on a team. I missed. I sat out for a while, feeling more and more like that sore thumb that sticks out in the crowd.

After several games went by without any chance for me to play, they changed how the teams were shaped. I guessed it was a rather hospitable way to help poor players get involved. I was pleased. Instead of having to make a free throw, captains began choosing members for their team. I’ll never forget the joy I felt when one friendly fellow called me out and asked if I wanted to play!

Christ’s Call to Love Your Neighbor

In the Gospel of Mark 12:28-34, Jesus focused on the two most important teachings of all of God’s commands; to love God and to love our neighbors. I think that each of these commands really depends upon the other. One can’t really love one’s neighbors without loving God, and we don’t really love God if we don’t also love our neighbors. But for now, let’s linger with the idea of loving our neighbors.

It is worthwhile knowing a little bit of Greek when we read passages in the New Testament about love. There are many words for love in the Greek language of the New Testament. The one used here is agape, which means love of an unconditional sort. This is not a passionate sort of love that a boyfriend and girlfriend might share. It is not the kind of emotion shared between close friends. It is an unconditional love that always has the other person’s best interests in mind. Sometimes loving this way is easy, sometimes it is pretty hard.

When Loving Your Neighbors is Easy

Loving your neighbors is easier when they are a lot like you. No doubt there are times when even the best of neighbors with whom we have grown up together turn out to be mean and hard to love. But it is easier, nonetheless, to care for those who are like us. This is especially true in places that have a high measure of national pride.

When Loving Your Neighbor is Hard

Living out Christ’s call to love our neighbors may be more difficult, however, than those who live all around us are very different from ourselves. It becomes a challenge to reach out in unconditional love to someone who looks different, smells different, dresses different, eats, talks, bathes, and worships differently from ourselves. For decades now in my own life (a typical white middle-class American life), I’ve heard people in my country say that foreigners are taking us over! They are either buying all of our property and businesses or sneaking over the border in the cover of darkness to invade and take away what is ours (perhaps we need a reminder that this place was not “ours” to begin with…we invaded it ourselves).

Well, it’s a lot more difficult to love our neighbors as Christ commands when we have negative feelings about those who join us. This is especially true in medium and large size cities in America and all around the world. We do much better when we resist these moments of exclusionary national pride and open our arms to the newcomers. Christ himself would have it this way; his command teaches us so.

When I was a child, we heard a lot about the United States as the “melting pot” of the world. America’s message to the world was to “bring us your huddled masses…” Here, in America, one could find their place and make a good life for themselves. When did we lose our gift of hospitality? When did we lose sight of Christ’s command to love our neighbor?

Mixed Salad

I rather like the new metaphor for American culture. We no longer hear much about America as a “melting pot.” But rather, America is now a “mixed salad.” A mixed salad has multiple ingredients, and it needs each and everyone to make a full, wholesome and delicious salad. Unlike a melting pot where all things blend in an unrecognizable mass, in a salad, no single culture loses its identity; each is fully appreciated for the uniqueness they bring to the whole.

I believe this mixed salad is closer to God’s ideal of loving our neighbor. When our neighbor is valued for who she is and what she adds to the whole of our life together, we do—in the very act of valuing her—love her as Jesus commanded us.

No doubt God will extend the paradise of heaven to multitudes of people from many different cultures. Lots of our neighbors in heaven will not look like us, eat, drink, dress, or smell like us. But, together there in heaven in one magnificent mixed salad, we will worship Jesus with one harmonious voice!

If you liked this, you might also like Who Is My Neighbor? | Love One Another 

Mark Carr writes from Alaska.

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About Mark F. Carr, PhD

Mark F. Carr, PhD

writes from Alaska.

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