This week, we turn our attention to the final days of Jesus’ life, as told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Beginning with Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem, each day will highlight one of the episodes from passion week. If you are in the vicinity of La Sierra, we invite you to attend Four Days with Jesus, beginning Thursday evening.
Four chapters from the time he will be captured and crucified, Jesus stands again in front of religious leaders, attempting to readjust the lens through which they see goodness and justice. They want to know of the greatest commandment and they hope to catch Jesus off guard, but it backfires because Jesus is ready for them—Jesus is always ready.
“Love God and love people” is what Jesus commands. Though Jesus does not speak in a veiled form, the religious leaders will have some homework to do, as they are not used to seeing the Law and the Prophets this way. This was of life suggested something far out of their comfort zones. It means they must go beyond where their “safe and organized” mosaic laws have prescribed. Jesus speaks truth, and it will cost him everything.
I can relate to the religious leaders to a certain extent. When I was in high school, I remember there was a fight between two boys that broke out in the middle of the courtyard during one of our lunch periods. I was close enough to see the first swing happen. Although my first instinct was to run to them and try to separate them, as my mother often separated my siblings during small tiffs at home, I quickly gathered my things and slipped into the closest hallway away from the fight.
I wanted nothing to do with this fight. It was messy, and it was dramatic, and I didn’t feel like being called in as a witness to what happened. My life was not messy. It was not dramatic. It was simple and organized and untainted with these sorts of dirty streaks. I was an honors student with a reputation to keep!
At first I thought it was the right thing to do, to walk away from what seemed to have nothing to do with me, but I have never been able to shake the memory and often have this sense of guilt. Maybe not so much that I was going to be the one to save the day had I stayed, but rather guilt that I felt I was exempt from offering a solution or that I was in some way above the problem and the people involved.
Perhaps this is what Jesus is trying for us to see when he fuses these two commandments together. Loving God means that we love all whom God loves—and that, of course, is all people regardless of their life resumes.
Our neighbors, while they do include those people we love to share life with voluntarily, include those with whom we wouldn’t dare taint our reputations or associations. Some of the hard work comes even before we get close enough to help our neighbors. Often times, even identifying our neighbors is hard work that we do internally. It means we muscle through the ideals that make us think that we are beyond the drama and above the circumstances of others people’s lives. Marianne Williamson said it this way, “You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.”
This week, as I think about Jesus’ last week with his so-called friends and neighbors, I think about what I would have done throughout the entire week? I really want to say that I would have run to Jesus’ defense—that I would have called out Judas on his inner turmoil and prevented the chaos. Or maybe as Jesus carried the cross, I would have run alongside him and lent him my shoulder to lean on for strength . . . But my track record doesn’t suggest this would be what I would actually do.
Life with Jesus as your neighbor was, and is, in fact, messy. It was, and is, dramatic and incredibly taxing to all “safe and organized” lives.
The task I’ve identified for myself this week is to seek all those who need a redeeming hand, no matter what condition or category they fall under. My commitment as a lover of Jesus is to lean in to help and uplift in whatever capacity I can. My job is not to save the people, for that is the task of a savior, but my task is to stay, to witness and to love.
In these small acts of loving our neighbor in the most unlikely times and ways—this is how we build our love for Jesus, with all of our hearts, with all of our souls and with all of our minds. May we learn this week a new way to think, so that we can master the best way to be.