“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40
I rode the elevator with my neighbor. We have lived next door to each other for than a year. I have only seen him once or twice. We felt a little awkward being forced together in a small space. We did not say anything to each other and perhaps we were ashamed that we had nothing to say to each other. Obviously, we were anxious to get to our floor. When the door opened, we gave each other a weak smile and nod and then went into our own apartments. We were free again to be alone and apart from each other.
Mary and I were in the elevator with some of our children a weeks ago. It was the first time for us. We haven’t been in a situation where we needed to be in a building together. However, this was a special occasion. Children day’s in Brazil falls on October 12th. Here the day is honored and celebrated with events and parties for children. A social agency decided to hold a party for our children and teens. Ruan insisted that we go with them and even made a special invitation for us. So there we were crowded together in a small space. There were at least 8 people this time. The party was on the 5th floor. Ruan was practical leaning on me. Then he did something unexpected. He rested his head on my shoulder. The other teens from the streets were with us. They did not say anything or even think that it was strange. I think that they would done the same. They can be very affectionate. A regular teenager of the same age wouldn’t do this even with his father. Ruan did not mind showing his affection with me. I did not mind being in the elevator with him. There was no awkwardness. I wasn’t waiting for the door to open to rush out. Ruan is my neighbor too but he lives miles away from my apartment. I feel comfortable with him. My next door neighbor lives in close proximity to me but there is a distance between us.
Jesus said that I should love my neighbor as myself. Love in itself is a complicated thing but loving another person as myself raises the bar. The traditional idea of love which I held onto to once doesn’t seem suffice.
Loving someone means desiring goodwill towards them; this was my answer to anyone who asked me about love. However, it doesn’t quite capture the essence of what Jesus is saying. I can convince myself that I desire goodwill for my next door neighbor without ever talking to him. I really doubt this was what Jesus had in mind when He said that we should love our neighbor. There is a distance between me and my neighbor. I cannot imagine loving him as myself because he is not part of my life. The love of Jesus overcome distances. His love for people was concrete and real. He loved people in a way that He made Himself need their presence. Jesus asked his closest disciples to be with him when He prayed the anguish prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. According to our faith, He is God incarnate. By right, He doesn’t need anyone. Yet He loved people in a way that He always wanted to be with them. He wasn’t afraid of this type of needing people: to allow them into our lives in such a way that it is difficult to imagine life without them.
The way Jesus loved produced something in the lives of the beloved. His love restored their humanity. The people who were once forgotten suddenly felt that they were important to God because of Jesus. They had a renewed zest for life because of His Love. Nothing of this sort was happening between me and the man who lived next door. There are too many obstacles between me and my neighbor.
The obstacles are there because we feel that we don’t need each other. We have our apartments. We have our hobbies. We have created a world for ourselves that excludes needing anyone. I don’t what he does in his home but I have enough things in mine to forget that he exists next door. On the other, Ruan has no possessions. He has some cards and letters that he treasures. He asked us to keep them for him because he knows that he will lose them in the streets. Homelessness doesn’t allow any room for personal possession. In a strange way, it creates less hindrance and distractions between us and the children. There are no material things to replace human interactions in their lives. The children and teens don’t need us in the material sense. They have their basic needs met by other social groups or random strangers. They have a different relationship with these people. It is based on a physical need and when the need is met, the relationship becomes meaningless. We don’t provide any material things. We are just there and they come to us. They want to be with us as much as we want to be with them. They need us as much as we need them but not because we gain some material benefits. There is an exchange between us but it is beyond material needs. When we are together, we feel like our world is complete. Perhaps, this is what it means to be reconciled.
When we go to the streets, we sit at the square and wait for them. They come on their own. They know that they don’t have to but they come to us and spend time with us. Recently, they made us overstay our usual time. We were with them until it got dark. We did it happily. We were not trying to rush back to our apartment. We don’t mind spending time with these children and teens because they are our neighbors. They have become part of our lives. Jesus has used these children and teens to teach us what it means to love a neighbor according to the gospel. They are people that you allow to become an integral part of your lives. Their relationship gives a new understanding of the meaning of life.
It is easier to love the children and teens than our next door neighbor. We thought that we are going out to the streets to teach the children about the gospel. However, I am discovering that Jesus is using them to teach us to remove the obstacles that separate us from our neighbors. Ruan was not afraid to show me that he enjoyed being with me. On the other hand, I can’t even think of something to say to my next door neighbor. Maybe it is time to allow the Holy Spirit to help me remove some of the barriers I have put between me and my neighbor. I don’t how to do it. Frankly speaking, I am not sure if I want to do it. However, I don’t want to miss out on life. Our life has become richer because we were open to the children. When Ruan put his head on my shoulder, it was special. I don’t want my next door neighbor to do the same. That would be very strange. However, I would like to learn how to love him as myself.