Not everyone’s personal libraries contain the hefty volume. Voluminous in size, it can nearly “choke a mule!” The technical title is that of a Bible Concordance.
Within, the inquisitive can discover the locations of oft-repeated words or phrases. For example, a “tree” is mentioned nearly 300 times in the sacred scriptures. At the other extreme, there are those elusive “hapax legomena” which are not to be confused with colorful building blocks. These are words making a singular appearance in the good book. Hence, it’s almost as hard to find “pistachio nuts” in the Bible – read the 43rd chapter of Genesis – as it is hand sanitizer in a grocery store.
That familiar expression “love your neighbor as yourself,” as it turns out, appears a grand total of nine times. First of all, it gets recorded in Leviticus and doesn’t reappear until the New Testament, with it coming up in various conversations of Jesus, two mentions by the Apostle Paul and one final occurrence in the book of James.
A cursory glance through that Old Testament reveals frequent wars with neighboring nations, extensive violence and recurring conflicts leading one to suspect the ancients hadn’t fully comprehended the mandate or failed miserably at its implementation.
Thankfully, in due time, Jesus takes up the lofty cause as he made mention of the command in his Sermon on the Mount. On a few other occasions, he offers some clarification as to its importance and implications, even establishing neighborly love as one of the two greatest of all commandments.
Following suit, the Apostle Paul declares that the entire law can be summed up in the command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If that’s not enough, James gives it the highest praise by describing it as the “royal law.”
Long before the State Farm Insurance Company came up with their inviting jingle, “Like a good neighbor,” the call to love one’s neighbor was already there.
Some of us may have been fans of that quintessential neighbor known as the beloved Mr. Fred Rogers. It was always a beautiful day when we agreed to be his neighbors and he ours during his TV show. Who wouldn’t want to say “yes” to his gentle plea?
He would find ample opportunity to pen songs expounding on how it is that we can get along together. One example in particular is called “Many Ways to Say I Love You.” Expertly crafted, the simple lyrics remind us how we can love by singing, cleaning, drawing, being or simply understanding.
Unfortunately, given our current plight not-so-affectionately known as COVID-19, some of neighborly Mr. Rogers’ tunes are not as melodiously singable.
We’re essentially unable to join enthusiastically in “Let’s Be Together Today.”
Adorned, many of us, behind our masks out in public, we have little incentive to sing along with “It’s the Style to Wear a Smile.” In fact, more than a few of us might be grumbling under our new facial apparel. We’d like to be done with it instead of having to don it, already. We’d like to close the gap and open things up that are closed. We’d like to give it a rest and get the party started.
On the other hand, we can chime in with “Let’s Think of Something to Do” especially given the opening line, “Let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting.” We’ve done plenty of that the last couple months.
We all may not have considered “love your neighbor as yourself” as the guiding principle behind our current behaviors, but perhaps we should.
Let’s all “love your neighbor as yourself” and keep our measured distance and uniformly walk the right direction in the grocery aisles.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” and wear those most unfashionable masks, even if they make your glasses foggy and don’t match your outfit.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” and keep searching for, finding and using those elusive bottles of sanitizer.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” and if you’re tired of listening to the endless stream of instructions and updates from our diligent governor and his staff, the medical experts and health departments, be reminded of one more matter as we cautiously and carefully try to navigate a way through this mess. A few verses prior to the Apostle Paul’s urging to “love your neighbor as yourself,” he directs his listeners to remember to “be subject to the governing authorities.”
With all due respect to Tina Turner’s tune, it’s less a question and more of an urgent request. Love may have much to do with it, and so we continue to do our pandemic-mitigating-thing and follow the prescript to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org