One of Jesus’ most famous statements is that the second most important command is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:37-39). Loving your neighbor as yourself is so profound and yet so overlooked as a cliche. When we hear it, we think “Yes! I want to strive after that ideal!” Or “Sure we have heard that before, so what?” This blog and at least a couple more that follow will try and make the old new again by adding different perspectives on this statement to help us put love into practice in our lives. I will begin with some research on wealth and compassion.
Several studies have shown that wealth reduces compassion . These studies aren’t saying that wealthy people are inherently worse. Instead, they attempt to describe how the values and conditions associated with wealth lead people to interact with and think less about people who are worse off. Wealth can also encourage people to think that they achieved their status by their own superiority and decisions which often leads to valuing other people less. The book Poverty by America observes that “In America, a clear marker of poverty is one’s reliance on public services, and a clear marker of affluence is one’s degree of distance from them.” The distance between the rich and poor – where you live, who you spend time with, and what you are focused on – creates a gap in compassion between the rich and the poor. In other words, because you see your neighbor less and you think less about your neighbor, you love them less. Additionally, if you see less of yourself in other people who are suffering, you care about them less. It is this compassion gap that stops people from taking action to benefit someone else.
Reflect on that for a minute. When you see a homeless person, do you think, that will never happen to me? Do you wonder about the story behind their situation or jump to conclusions about the causes that got them there? When you hear about the refugees and migrants overwhelming our state’s capacity to house them, do you see yourself in any of them? It can be harder because they may not look like you, talk like you, or even have the same faith as you. But seeing ourselves in other people is such a powerful catalyst to love and serve them. We see this idea expressed well in Leviticus 19:33-34.
33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
The Israelites were foreigners in Egypt. They knew what it was like to be treated as second-class citizens. So because of that, God commanded them to treat foreigners as equals. To tap into the collective and personal experience they had to treat others well.
This is often how it works isn’t it? Those who have seen the pain up close and personal are those more likely to serve others facing a similar situation. Think about how many volunteers or people who work in a serving career have experienced similar situations, from drug addiction to homelessness, or even doctors who had an illness or a family member sick. They have experienced the pain themselves and that pain becomes the compassion fueling their action. They can see their neighbor as themselves.
So as we close out this blog I want to encourage you to consider how you have jumped to conclusions about other people. What might inspire your curiosity about their story and being? Do you see any of yourself in your neighbor? What impedes you from seeing their worth and their value as being made in the image of God?
I think it is important to develop practices that counteract the natural trend toward distance creating a gap in compassion. God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God calls us to constantly close that gap. Living simply and other BFJN resources as highlighted in past blogs provide some avenues to prevent a growing distance between us and those with less. They help because despite having more, you can choose not to use your wealth to become more distant from other people but instead, live simply. However, there are more ways we will explore next time.