Love Your Neighbor and Plant a Tree

Growing up, there were people I idolized and thought were the best human beings ever to be born. I admired Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns for his work ethic and Christian faith. I thought the best of Mr. Fred Rodgers because of his integrity and sincerity. And now, when people say that they admire me or think the best of me, I’ve often wondered, why. I’m just like Kevin and Mr. Rodgers and the rest of humanity, born into flesh and bones and prone to sinful tendencies. One of those sinful tendencies that I want to see change in my heart and actions is my attitude towards those whose belief system is different from my own.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal of poking fun at someone else but the root issue is a matter of the heart.

We are willing to mock and ridicule someone because their ideas are foreign to our own, but what causes us to do so? Looking inside my own heart, I know that I can be condescending because I can have the mind set of “I am holier than thou.” But I don’t think that it is my place to say that. What truly bothers me is that those in the name of Christ are at the forefront of this idea. We like to laugh at liberals, poke fun at fanatics, and we enjoy mockery at the expense of others.

However, Christians aren’t the only ones to blame for this action but humanity as a whole. I think GK Chesterton is credited with saying, “The test of a good religion is if you can make fun of it or not.” When I was growing up, making fun of someone else’s belief or conviction was on a strong taboo. We could have fun other ways without poking fun at people’s ideals.

The problem is that inside each and every person is sin. We are all born with it and the only solution to our brokeness is to recieve the free gift that Jesus offers through his death and resurrection. Through his suffering, we have been liberated and loved with an everlasting love. However, if we truly believe this, then why is it that we are judgmental of other broken people?

A biblical parable that I enjoyed listening to was the classic tale of the Good Samaritan. We are all familiar with it but now as an adult I’ve started to contemplate the story. How it is truly a shame that the first two men, the priest and Levite ignored him, but the Samaritan (who was despised by the Jewish people) took pity on him and helped him in his time of need. I’ve started to think, which character can I relate to the most? Could it be the man who was beaten to a bloody pulp, the priest who passed him on the other side of the road, the Levite who did the same, or the Samaritan who helped him in this crucial moment of life? I always thought that I could be the Samaritan, because of the limited goodness that is my being, but I think I would be like the first two men. However, I know that with time and with God’s help, I can become like my hero in the story.

“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.”

One area that I need to work on is to love my neighbor, because lately, I’ve noticed in my own heart that I enjoy making fun of people whose beliefs are different from my own. My ridicule has targeted everyone from the person who believes in new age things to Muslims to someone who is overweight, or wearing a rainbow bracelet, or on the street pushing a shopping cart.

How often do I neglect these verses:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

I know that I want to experience change in this area of my life—do you? I’m going to start praying for those people, that God opens their eyes to the gospel. The above verse gives me comfort: He (The Father) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

One way I think we can begin to love our neighbor is to love those within our community. Aristotle had the perspective that you cannot be fully human if you don’t join the community. I’m not saying we should all go down to the town hall of our respective towns and say “sign me up for the community events.” But look around you, which community are you a member of? For example, I am in a community of believers at my church, but my attendance is not enough. I serve when I can and engage many of the people who I interact with. Then I am a member of a community called College, in my classes, the people I talk to in the cafeteria, the people I run into in the breeze ways and in the library. I must say that I don’t interact with many people on the bus but time to time I do talk to the bus driver. Those are just a few of the communities that I am a member of; I’m sure that I could think of more. I am applying this in the area of a friendship I have with a Mormon at school. Even though both of us are good friends, we both know where each other’s is coming from. He has invited him to the annual Mormon Easter Pageant and I’ve accepted this offer. Why? So I can show Christ’s love to him.

Something to think about, if you are not a member of a community, you could be denying the blessing of the gifts that God has given you to encourage others.

Some of you might be thinking, but why did Paz mention planting a tree? Here’s why. I’ve heard a quote that might have been said by Martin Luther. When asked  if he found out he was dying the following day, what would he do differently?

Luther replied, “I would plant a tree.”

How amazing is that answer! He wouldn’t go out and change the world, but instead he would plant a tree. We don’t have to go out and change the world or even make dramatic changes within our communities. We need to plant trees; simply put, we need to love our neighbors, right where we are.

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