An Australian soap opera bears the intriguing title ‘Neighbours’. Ratings indicate that it enjoys wide popularity. It traces the life of a small rural community. Each episode seems to revolve around some row or quarrel in the neighbourhood. The same seems to be true of all popular TV soap operas, such as Coronation Street and Eastenders. Again the characters are all neighbours. Their true to life quality obviously accounts in part for their popularity. The writers of these series achieve this by focusing on the jealousies and hostilities that seem to dominate life in these fictional communities. In many ways however they mirror real life because, for many of us, the term ‘neighbours’ somehow always seems to conjure up the memory of some quarrel or other.
God’s remoteness from us makes him more easily lovable. He doesn’t elbow his way into our lives. He isn’t always sticking his nose into our business. We do not think of him as an interfering busybody. It is we who come banging on the door when we need his help. Otherwise he keeps his distance discreetly and lovingly. The neighbour is so often just the opposite. The old Catechism used to define our neighbour as “all mankind” but it is the person next door or across the road that bothers us. We have no problem with those if far off lands. If they are hungry or their rights are being ignored, we show our concern and generosity to help them. The crux for us however is the neighbour next door!
The Christian commandment to love God and to love our neighbour is uncompromising. We are called to love our neighbour as we love our very selves. In the ‘Our Father’ Jesus taught us to pray. In it he framed a contract between us and God the Father. The bargain we strike is no soft option: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The great trespasser in our lives might be the one living closest to us. There is so much to forgive and the score keeps mounting! If God’s judgment of us were to be as harsh as ours often is of our neighbour, we are not giving ourselves much of a chance.
Jesus is the ultimate realist. He says “ Love your neighbour as yourself.” We may try to evade our responsibility by pointing out that some people are simply unlovable. In essence Jesus says to each of us: “ I know that but I’m not interested in how you feel about people. That is not the issue. My concern is how you treat them.” Love is not some sentimental feeling, it is how we treat one another, how we act towards one another. Ultimately loving our neighbour is about what we do to them and for them. Fr John