Jesus never said “Love everybody.” I’ve checked. It’s not in the Bible. Now before you begin writing letters to the editor or perhaps to my Bishop, hear me out. I’m glad Jesus never told me I had to love everybody. I can’t. It’s not humanly possible. Loving the whole world is something divine, and even God struggled to do it on the cross. Instead of commanding us to love everyone, Jesus commanded us to “love God,” “love your neighbor,” and “love one another.” I’m glad he said it this way. Loving our neighbor is much more particular and scandalous than loving everyone.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes our neighbor by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Neighbors are not simply the people who sleep in houses in close proximity to our homes. Jesus defined neighbors as the people we encounter on the way. At first this may seem like an easy command, but what if we loved each person we interact with along the way? Sure, family and friends are pretty much assumed, but what about the others? The cashier at the store who was slower than grandma’s two step shuffle? The coworker that tells the annoying overused joke for the thousandth insult? That loud-mouth who disagrees with us about politics?
And what about the people we interact with through our purchasing power? We are a global economy. Each swipe of our plastic is impacting someone’s life. The child sweating in the factory putting buttons on our shirts? The underpaid and overworked woman sewing brand names into our tagless underwear? And let’s not forget closer to home – migrant workers picking vegetables amid the fog of carcinogenic insecticide. God, this is difficult!
Loving everyone actually might be simpler. Why not reword the command into the golden rule? Instead of “Love thy neighbor” let’s use “Love everyone the same way you want to be loved”? Some people don’t have self-love, self-respect, etc. Using the golden rule, I could mistreat and disrespect everyone equally in the same manner I expected to be mistreated and disrespected. God is smart. Even the Lord ‘chose’ a people to be particularly loved among all humanity through whom the rest of the world would encounter the divine love. This is the scandal of the particular in the universal.
God doesn’t simply love everyone; God loves you. All of the you’s who there are out there in the cosmos. You are a unique human who has very particular needs; your experience of God’s universal love will be particular. I think this is why the Bible uses Father as a metaphor for God and God’s love. I love my two children. I do not love them equally. They know it, too. They’ve asked. I’ve told them each and every time that they ask the same answer. I love them as much as they need me to love them. I love them equitably. I love them particularly. The Lord’s love is enough. God doesn’t love one more or less than the other. God loves us as much as we need to be loved.
Jesus taught us to love like he loved. When we encounter one another in any way we become neighbors. We’re called to love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us. Love is particular. Don’t try to love everybody. You’ll fail. Instead of going global, go local. Love your neighbor. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.
Originally published in the Tidewater News, July 2016.