Who is my neighbor?

Today’s Gospel from St. Mark is one of my favorites. In it a scribe asks Jesus what is the first of all the commandments. Jesus responds, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, 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.” The scribe tell’s Jesus he has answered well and affirms the following, to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus sees the man has anwered with understanding and said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This is one of my favorite passages in all the Gospels because in it Jesus speaks not of the Ten Commandments which are often referred to in the Mosaic law and frequently used even today as a standard of civil and/or moral behavior. Jesus’ standard is instead the higher or perhaps highest standard by which we are and will be judged. In Matthew 25: 31-46 he reiterates this same theme.

The message of Jesus is one of radical mercy and forgiveness. What get’s the attention of the king is how we treat our brothers and sisters, especially those with whom we are least comfortable, those at the margins of society. They are the folks whom we’d prefer not to associate with, the people outside our comfort zone. They might be white, black, Hispanic, Palestinian, Israeli, gay or straight. Whoever is the outsider and foreigner in our particular circumstance or community. This is the Christ in our midst. Peace.

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