When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). Who is our neighbor? When Jesus answered this question, he shared a story we call The Good Samaritan (see: Luke 10:25-37). The answer is that everyone is our neighbor. Now, all of us know that relationships can be messy. There are people who are simply difficult to love. There are people who think so differently, whose worldview is so dissimilar from ours that it is a challenge to love as a neighbor. However, I believe some of the hardest people to love like Christ are those in our family. The old adage rings true: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” What am I getting at? Well, if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love our neighbors, then we need to love our family with Christ-centered neighborly love.
No family is perfect, even Jesus’ family. As you know, Jesus’ birth was not without controversy. Mary, while a virgin (Lk 1:34) is miraculously pregnant. Joseph considers breaking off their marriage, but due to divine intervention decides to take her as his wife. We presume Joseph died prematurely (Joseph apparently did not accompany Mary to the wedding in Cana, and after the crucifixion, Mary went to live at the home of the un-named Beloved Disciple, which she probably wouldn’t have done if her husband had still been alive.) Jesus was the older brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas as well as of at least to sisters (Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). When Jesus left home to begin His ministry, other members of His family appear to have disapproved (Mk 3:21). We don’t know the reasoning, but on one occasion Jesus refused to talk to His mother and brothers when they tracked Him down and tried to see Him (Matt 12:46-50). For some time in Jesus’ ministry, His brothers did not believe Him (John 7:5). However, eventually, Jesus’ mother Mary and His brothers join the early church after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14). The oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers was named James. He became a very important leader in the early church and is the named as the author of the New Testament book of James. Another brother of Jesus, called Jude, is the named author of the New Testament book of Jude. Think about it. God sends His Son into the world and places Him in the midst of a family with issues. Why? For one thing…every family from one degree to another has issues. However, in spite of this truth believers are called to love their family neighbors.
Through the story, The Good Samaritan, we not only discover that everyone is our neighbor and we are to love them, but also that the Samaritan was able to love because he felt empathy, had compassion, and showed mercy, in part, because he saw a man hurting and was in need. The Samaritan was able to relate to being in need and fulfilled The Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12). The truth is that as we love God with everything and continue to walk with the Lord in faith, the Spirit of God makes us more like Christ enabling and empowering us to love all neighbors, even family neighbors. Perhaps, then, the real focus is not on loving everyone, including family members, to honor God. But, first, we are to fall deeper in our love for God. In doing so, we position ourselves to receive His unlimited resources for us. Then we can actually love all others. It appears we need to give up on mere willpower and trust in God’s power at work in and through us.
As part of God’s family let us encourage one another to seek God and His kingdom first, then allow Him to love others through us (see: Matt 6:33). Love all others, especially family, might be challenging, but the one who gave all for all of us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is more than capable of leading and empowering us to show neighborly love to all people.