Lynn Turner was reading from Galatians 5, where Paul says, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (vs. 14). Even as she was reading I wondered if I love my neighbor as I love myself, that is, exactly as much as I love myself.
I thought about something that had happened a few evenings before.
I had gone outside to water the plants that were wilting in the heat, and as I watered I noticed that my neighbor’s plants were also wilting. I live in a duplex. My neighbor and I share a common wall. So, the plants in front of her house are right beside the plants in front of mine. I knew she had been out of town lately, and in an impulsive gesture of neighborliness I turned the hose on her plants and washed the dust off the leaves. They looked better immediately, and even seemed to perk up a little bit. I sprayed until the leaves were dripping and the dry mulch beneath the plants was wet, but then I turned back to my plants, and back to the serious work of soaking the roots so they could make it through the next day. I sprayed a little more water in her direction before I coiled the hose, but I did not water the plants that were out of easy reach on the other side of her steps. I justified it by thinking that anything I had done was better than nothing.
But sitting in church on Sunday I realized that I had not loved my neighbor as much as I love myself. If I had loved her as much as I love myself her plants would have gotten exactly as much water as mine. But they didn’t; they got a good bit less.
The measure of our love is not always so quantifiable, but last week it was. It forced me to realize that while I like my neighbor I don’t love her, at least not as much as I love myself. I’m going to think about that the next time I go out to water the plants and, if Jesus has his way, I will probably think about it the next time I see someone standing at the corner, holding a cardboard sign that says, “Hungry. Please help.”