I love to bake bread. I find the process of mixing and kneading relaxing and the time of waiting for loaves to rise a great opportunity to rest and simply wait. When I am feeling very stressed or waiting for something to change in my life, I will often make bread as a means of de-stressing. The upside to this is that then my house is filled with the aroma of fresh baking and we fill the tummies of our friends and neighbours with the end results. Today, with a little prompting from my husband, I made loaves to share with our Muslim neighbours who are breaking their fasts as they participate in Ramadan. Once the sun went down, we took steaming, warm loaves over to them and wished them well.
Our neighbors were thrilled and blessed. The unexpected gift was gratefully received and they were so pleased that we acknowledged their tradition. You see, all our neighbors know we are Christians, so there was no illusion that we were celebrating as well. They knew that this was a deliberate act to show them love. Interestingly, when Muslims share gifts (usually food) during the holidays they might use the phrase “give gifts to spread love to one another” as a way of acknowledging gifts. So the gift of bread we shared with our neighbours was spreading love.
To be honest, we did not share bread with them because we wanted to convert them or to show them how cool and hip us Christians can be. We shared bread with them because we love them. We love them because they are people, because they are our neighbours, because they have adorable and respectful children, and lots of other reasons. That love we have for them is unquestionably rooted in Christ, and it is most definitely an outpouring of our faith and our desire to give to one another as there is need.
What did Jesus say about this? In Matthew 22: 36-40, he tells us outright that we are to love our neighbour. He didn’t tell us to love your neighbour with the intent of converting them, or love only the neighbours who believe what you do. He doesn’t tell us to love only the neighbours who come to your church events. He just said to love God first, and love our neighbours. I appreciate that there are no qualifying statements on loving the neighbors. It speaks to me that Jesus didn’t want us to have agendas in our love. It seems to me that it demonstrates that once we love God, the rest becomes a natural following of that love. It doesn’t matter if we love Muslims, Hindus or atheists. It matters that we love. It doesn’t’ matter if they are gay, straight, living together, married, single or any of that. It matters that we love.
My husband has often talked about one day standing up in front of a church and saying “Love one another” in as many ways as possible, over and over again so that maybe people will get the message. I understand that he wants to do that because it is so easy to not love those who are different, whose customs don’t align with ours. It’s easier to be indifferent or even away from people who don’t do as we do and it is comfortable to be with people who are like minded. It’s okay, even good, to be with and encourage people by hanging out together. When we are limited to ONLY doing that, I think we miss the point of Jesus’s message to love each other. In our experience, when we commit to loving those who are not like us, we have found that our love for God increases. We begin to see more clearly how each person is created in the image of God and how diverse His kingdom really can be. Loving all our neighbours brings community, vitality and challenge that we would not find if we limited the ‘who’ that we love to people we think are candidates for coming to our church or into our faith community.
This week, I encourage you to think about the verses in Matthew 22. Look around your community and seek how Jesus shows you to love your neighbours. And then, do it. Love one another.