I had a summer cold last week, aren’t those the worst? On top of the sneezing and congestion, it is hot outside and humid which makes everything just feel worse. I got to the point of telling Joey on his way home to stop at the store and “bring me all the medicine.” I just wanted to throw everything at it until I felt better. I think the church is at that point, spiritually. We are beaten, broken, confused, hurting, lashing out…but not abandoned (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). It is time to throw all the medicine at it. Luckily, Jehovah Rapha, the Great Physician (Mark 2:7), knows the one prescription we need.
Sometimes a scripture, devotion, or sermon message is meant to just build us up to where God wants to be; to call us up to be more. Other times, we need the Holy Spirit to bring us comfort in a time of pain or turmoil, and He does that through His word. The scripture is also there to teach us, and sometimes convict us to bring our fleshly ways into the light so the darkness in us can no longer hide. Sometimes we need tough love, sometimes we need gentle care, sometimes we need taught a lesson through His gentle love, sometimes we need it all.
And Jesus delivered it all in Mark 12:29-31, “ Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
We don’t need a long, complicated treatment plan. The medicine is quite simple, though for some it may taste a bit bitter. Love God, Love Others. That’s it. It all boils down to this. God handed us the prescription two thousand years ago, now it is up to us to decide if we are going to follow the treatment plan. So what does that look like? What is the dosage? What does it look like to love others? Who do we love? How do we love them? Like any good doctor, He answers all of our questions and more.
How do we love one another? By carrying one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Carrying the burdens of others is the heavy lifting of loving them. We are plagued in society with the mindset of “It’s not my problem. It doesn’t affect me.” But if we are to truly function as the body of Christ, what affects one of us should burden us all (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). If I twist my ankle, it affects my gait. Messing up my gait can cause extra pressure on my knee, which leads to pain up in my hip. My hip hurting can make me favor one side, which ends up tweaking my back. When one part of the body is in pain, it trickles out to the other parts. That’s what happens when you are connected, as the body of Christ should be. What hurts one hurts us all. Carry one another’s burdens, it is all of our problem.
We can even see Jesus laying this picture out for us in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Notice the attitude of the priest who walks by the injured man first. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.” When he saw the problem, instead of running to help, he crossed the road. He got as far away as possible, hoping no one saw him, and convinced himself that it wasn’t his problem. Here’s the flaw in that attitude, I bet someone did see him. “A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.” A temple assistant, a person who looked up to the Priest could have seen the attitude of the priest and emulated him. If our religious leaders decide to turn the other way and ignore the problem, a trickle down effect occurs.
Until someone sees past it and steps out in love. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.” The despised Samaritan knew pain. He knew what it was like to hurt, but instead of using his past as an excuse to only look out for #1, he looked at that man and said, “I have been where you are, and I am going to reach down and help you out of it.” That is the body helping the parts. That is loving others. That is being a neighbor.
A neighbor extends mercy to those God places in his path without crossing the street to avoid the issue. A neighbor places the value of others above themselves. A neighbor doesn’t have to have been through the same thing to offer aid.
Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow
It doesn’t say “If you are oppressed, defend the oppressed, if you are fatherless, take up the cause of the fatherless, if you are a widow, plead the case of your fellow widows.” What it does say, is learn. Learn to do right, learn to seek justice, because when we know better, we do better. When we learn that we don’t know everything and seek to know more, then we can be a true neighbor.
“The man wanted to justify his actions (emphasis added), so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'”
The original question posed to spark this story was, “Who is my neighbor?” A valid question asked with a skewed heart. The ability to help our neighbor and as a result heal this land starts with our heart. It is not the question, it is the motivation. It is not the action, it is the reason for the action. The man wanted to know who his neighbor was not to seek out his neighbor, but to justify an action in his past. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
Why. Why are we doing this? Why are we trying to do better? To feel better about ourselves, or lift someone else up above ourselves?
Just last night, I was watching an episode of “The Good Place.” It is a secular show, it is very truly fiction and not at all a representation of what we know the afterlife to be, but it is kinda funny and God just reminded me of the season 1 finale. Eleanor is trying to earn her spot in The Good Place by doing as many good deeds as possible. She has a little point calculator to track her journey of trying to hurry up and be a “good person” so that she doesn’t have to go to The Bad Place. After all kinds of trying and working, the ticker will not budge. Finally it dawns on her, it wasn’t her actions, it was her motivation that caused her to not earn any points. She was doing kind things, but the only reason she was doing them was to help herself.
Praise God that that is not how it works. Our works will never earn us passage into heaven (Ephesians 2:9). God sealed our ticket to the real “Good Place” when He died on the cross, and before He died He commanded us to do just two things while we are still here. Love God. Love others. Everything comes back to this, and this is what we need to heal our hurts. Galatians 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”