Liking—Not Loving—My Neighbor

It was during the Epistle reading on Sunday that I realized: I do not love my neighbor as myself.

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.”