What if we did this?
If your neighborhood is anything like mine, when you leave the house in the morning you go to your garage to get in your car, you pull into your alleyway & you drive to work. When you come home from work you pull into your alleyway, into your garage & go into your house.
Then you might go into the backyard where your yard is surrounded by a beautiful privacy fence & you grill your hamburgers on the grill, you go back into your house & eat. Then you watch a little tv, play with the kids, & eventually go to bed.
And what’s amazing is that even though there are people living 20 feet from you in every direction, you could go weeks or months without actually seeing your neighbors.
Yet, when Jesus was asked what was most important, the answer Jesus gave was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, & to love your neighbor as yourself.
So, what if we took Jesus’ words literally & loved our actual neighbors?
Truth is, I’m constantly being out neighbored by my neighbors… and they make me want to be a better neighbor. And to be honest, when I think about taking Jesus’ words literally, to actually love my neighbors who live next door, it makes me want to be a better neighbor too… because I want the people who live nearest to me to experience the love of God through me.
What a tragedy it would be for those who live nearest to us to never experience the love of God through us.
The problem is that we’ve set up our lives to isolate ourselves so well from others that we don’t have to actually see the people we live next to or speak to the people who live on the other side of the street.
Our houses have become little castles where what we need is delivered to our door or streamed to us online. We don’t have to borrow a cup of sugar anymore, we just dial up UberEats & have a meal delivered.
But what would it look like if we, as followers of Jesus, literally loved our neighbors, knew them by name & decided to be good neighbors to them.
And what if there were more that hung in the balance of you & I being a good neighbor than just you being nice?
What if Jesus said you & me being a good neighbor was more important than that. In fact, what if… what if everything hinged on this? On loving your neighbor as yourself?
Jesus, Eternal Life & Neighbors
In the gospel of Luke, we have this story about Jesus…
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
He literally wants to put Jesus on trial with this question. He wants to see if he can outsmart, out think, out maneuver Jesus. I’m sure he was able to outsmart other people before, but not today!
And he asks Jesus what I believe is a really great question… it’s the same question that if we’re honest, we ask. “What do I have to do to get to heaven?”
If someone asked you, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” what would you say?
Ok, now before you think too long about your answer, I want you to look at this picture & tell me what you see.
Do you see a duck?
Or do you see a rabbit?
Or, do you see both a duck & a rabbit?
This sketch first appeared in a German magazine about 1892, but it was later made famous by U.S. psychologist Joseph Jastrow in 1899. Jastrow used the illusion to make the point that we ‘see’ with our brains as well as our eyes.
The reason I wanted to show you this picture is to point out a simple truth, that when you look at it long enough, you can see that there is more than 1 answer. And even when you’re familiar with the image, you can see that that there’s more than 1 way to look at it.
Now back to our question… If someone were to ask you, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” my guess is that you would say something like… “You need to go to church, be a good Christian, live a good life.”
Or you might say something like, “You need to hear the word of God, believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of your sins, confess that Jesus is Lord & be baptized.”
It’s like someone showed us a picture & we all said, it’s a duck! A lot of us would probably come up with a similar answer to that question.
But when Jesus was asked that question, he said rabbit!
Look at the way Jesus answers this man’s initial question & think about how different it is from what you or I might have said if someone asked us this question.
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
So Jesus answers the man’s question with a question. And this religious expert gives his answer, & guess what? Jesus says he nailed it! He got it right!
The way to inherit eternal life is to… Love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength & to love your neighbor as yourself.
The Way to Eternal Life is Next Door
My guess is that this is not the way you & I would have answered this question.
Jesus says that the way to inherit eternal life is to totally & completely love God & to totally & completely love our neighbors & when we do this we will experience eternal life!
So, according to Jesus, the way to experience eternal life is by committing to make things next door as they are in heaven. Just think about that.
The activity of love activates eternal life.
So what if we just took Jesus at his word & literally loved our neighbors?
What if we loved the people who live right across the street? The people who live on our right & on our left? What if we took them food when they were sick? What if we prayed for them by name? What if they knew if they needed something they could call on us & we would stop what we were doing to help them?
Maybe, just maybe, we would learn what Jesus meant when he said we should love our neighbors.
Jesus once prayed, “May your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Maybe by loving our literal neighbors, we can participate in Jesus’ prayer to make things next door as they are in Heaven.