“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is part of the great commandment uttered by Jesus. Are we to apply that commandment to those who are close to us, have the same values as our own, and who are easy to befriend? Or are we able to broaden our definition of loving our neighbour to extend beyond land boundaries, cultural and even religious divides? What would it mean personally if we are to love our global neighbours? And how can we best achieve this in our current fractured world where intolerance for others is more prevalent.
While I have had the immense privilege to serve in Pakistan with its cultural and religious differences from my own, you also don’t have to go too far out of the Melbourne CBD to know that we also live in a multi-cultural, multi- faith community. These are our global (local) neighbours right in our own streets – and we are called to love.
As we draw closer to Christmas I am reminded of the prologue in John’s Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (1:14). Earlier in the passage John describes the arrival of Jesus as the light coming into the darkness and this light was to bring life. During our time in Pakistan one (anonymous) officer reminded us: “Jesus came to the dusty places, he came to the dirty places; [but despite this bleak reality], Jesus brought love, truth, grace and wholeness.” Jesus came to a messy world. Things were far from perfect, and yet by Jesus’ very presence in the world, darkness was overcome by light – light that radiated out and provided a sense of hope and a possible new reality.
John’s gospel doesn’t commence with the manger scene in Bethlehem – he starts right at the beginning. It was God’s plan for Jesus to enter the world. It was God’s plan to show us how to love: not only to reciprocate God’s love but the mandate to love each other. Jesus – the greatest gift given to us!
So what do we do with this gift and what response do we need to make? Do we just accept the gift for ourselves, or do we respond to that gift and spread the light and love of God to others, no matter who they are? The challenge for all of us is to engage with and love those who may be different to us. I place the challenge before us: if there is someone who we may find more difficult to love, or a group of people whose worldview may be completely different to ours, can we take the first step towards them and engage them in conversation? Only when we begin a conversation with our neighbours can we truly understand another person’s perspective and break down barriers.
The world would have us believe that what makes us different requires us to be intolerant of each other but what should unite us are the things we embrace: love, respect and grace – the hallmarks of Jesus’ life.
Christmas is a time of giving, to express our love to others. May this Christmas be the opportunity to give the gift of loving our neighbours no matter where they are, who they are and what they value. It is in loving our global neighbours that we continue to shine the light of God in this dark world.