Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself [Theology Thursday]
What we allow to inform us becomes what we believe.
A man named Jesus once said, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The culture around me seems to say, “you shall do what is right for you and love yourself.”
Here are depictions of both statements drawn out:
A man driving home after a long week of conducting business at a trade show notices a car on fire and a man beaten up on the side of the road outside of it. He considers the time it may take from his travel if he is to stop. He slows and peers down the road, flicking the face of his watch with his finger. He stops and studies the beaten man. He is unconscious, though he is familiar too. He was at the trade show too, except he was smiling, laughing, and writing up several more business contracts. Yesterday’s competition, he thinks. Today’s near-death story. At the end of every day, every businessman is still just a man, just as able to be beaten by something. Had he left the night before, as this man had, it might have been his car on fire. He steps out of his car, pulls the man across his shoulders, and sprawls him across his backseat. He drives a few miles to the nearest motel. He calls for a doctor, spending the last of his travel money as a down payment for his attention. He tells the motel manager to keep the beaten man as long as he needs to be kept, and to mail him the bill.
Two days later, the beaten man is conscious again. When he asks who brought him to the motel, and who hired the doctor, the motel manager hands him a wrinkled piece of paper with an address.
What is this? The man asks.
Your advocate, sir.
The man who saved you.
He turns the paper over twice and studies it. It is someone’s business card. I’ve heard of this man, he tells the motel manager. Why would he have stopped for me?
The motel manager shrugs. Maybe he believes in helping people, sir.
Helping people? No, that’s not how it works. Not people like me. In the business world I’m his enemy.
Maybe you’re not, sir. Maybe in some other world you’re his friend. His action might start a wildfire. You never can know. Care for neighbors like us can make caring for our neighbors make more sense.
A man coming home from a business venture stops along the side of the road to watch a fire. He opens his notepad and removes a pen from his jacket pocket. He scribbles down notes. The flames are like red and orange cornstalks reaching for the sky. Blackened at their tips, there is smoke billowing like confused clouds that meander before lurching toward the blue sky. I can turn this into a story tonight, he thinks. Tomorrow’s headlines will be mine. Cars are driving by and people slow to watch. Some lay on their horns and look annoyed. They are not interested in the fire. There does not appear to be any help coming. This might burn for hours, he thinks. And I have the best spot. The best eyewitnesses are the worst interveners. The world tells stories everyday, and I would be a fool to stand in its way.
An ambulance screams around the city. When it gets to St. Mark’s hospital it screeches to a stop. Two men are yelling at each other as they open the rear door. A body like a carcass made of charred bones is on the gurney. Several seconds pass.
I told you to go left and you went right, the first ambulance operator says.
It doesn’t matter. This poor bastard is gonna die. I drove as fast as I could but what’s the sense in getting us killed too?
It doesn’t matter. I’m the lead and you listen to me, even if I’m wrong.
Inside there are white coats, green scrubs, tennis shoes. The emergency room is a whirlwind of evaporating time.
What do we got? The doctor says as he pushes through the door. He turns to the sink to wash his hands.
Car wreck. The fire leapt from his car to the field where he was thrown. Under the char he looks beaten pretty badly too. Looks premeditated.
That’s not our job to decide. He looks over the body. We decide if he lives and that’s it, and judging by the look of him you better call for the priest.
He ain’t worth our time. Get his I.D., his insurance policy, and then pump his heart a few times. Get him on an IV, but don’t hold your breath. We ain’t here to plead for miracles. We have more work to do.
A priest opens his Bible it at a sewn-in burgundy book marker. The man’s mother and brother have come, but his father and ex-wife have not. The priest reads systematically from Isaiah the prophet, David the Psalmist, and Paul, the self-appointed apostle. He speaks from a script in his book and condoles the family. They cross themselves when he is finished. He closes his Bible, reports a blessing, and departs from their room. He scratches down the family name and the service he conducted in a small black book issued to him by the hospital.
To a very true and certain extent, what we allow to inform us becomes what we believe.
The man, Jesus, once said, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The culture around him, me, and us ever seems to say, “you shall do what is right for you and love yourself.”