“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 the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39, English Standard Version
I sat at my desk at work after-hours and overheard a colleague talking on the phone in her office. I’d come in to do some work while my daughter took her music lesson at a shop up the street and assumed I was alone until I heard the woman’s phone ring.
She obviously spoke to a grown child who had exasperated her exceedingly. She was angry and hateful, used language I’d never heard her use, and said very unkind things about her husband, who apparently wasn’t doing his part to remedy whatever problem the child was having.
When I realized the identity of the person speaking, I was doubly embarrassed from having overheard and from the fact that she’d always spoken so kindly to me and often talked about her church. I was frozen at my desk, torn between letting my presence be known because, surely, she didn’t know that I was there, and just wanting to hide quietly until I could safely sneak out undetected.
When I related the episode to my husband later, I heard myself saying, “I couldn’t believe she spoke that way to her child about her husband!” But somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard a little voice saying, “Haven’t you done much the same?”
I may not have used the language that I heard her use, but I have certainly, at times, spoken to my family in a manner that I would not use with a stranger or even a friend.
In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus declares the two greatest commandments to be loving God with our entire being and loving others as much as we love ourselves. There are no caveats or stipulations about only loving the loveable people because, if we get right down to it, aren’t we all unlovable in God’s holy and perfect eyes?
My judgment of my colleague that night was unfair. I had no right to judge her in the first place, being that I am not without sin myself, and I had no knowledge of the problem. Her anger may have been justified. In the weeks since, as I’ve learned more about her, my empathy towards her has grown, and I’ve learned that she works very long hours to support her family and really is a very kind person who takes on difficult clients.
So, I pray for her and speak to her with kindness and respect when she stops to talk or offer me professional advice. I think that is what Jesus means when He says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We, God’s children, are to look beyond the surface and see a fellow human who is hurting or damaged in some way, just as we are, and to treat them with the kindness we would want ourselves.
Father God, please help us to see ourselves in others and show them the love, mercy and grace that You have shown us. In Jesus’s holy name. Amen.