Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:29-31
Over a decade ago, on the first day we moved into The Little House in the Suburbs, the guy who lives across the street knocked on the front door. He had not, as I had presumed, stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood, but to crankily warn us against parking in front of his house. As he walked away, I'm pretty certain that I uttered an unflattering oath. And, this being August and the windows being flung open, I'm totally certain he heard me.
We got off on a bad foot all those years ago. To this day, I've never been able to love my neighbor. But I keep coming back to these words from Jesus, running my non-love for my neighbor over this passage the way you run your tongue over a rough spot on a tooth. The words still poke.
Because they poke, I know that Jesus is still speaking these words just for me. I trust he will keep speaking them as long as I need to keep hearing them. So, I'll keep listening and trying and getting poked and trying again and trusting that one day these beautiful, irritating words will finally make it from my ear into my heart.
Jesus, we do not nearly have this love-my-neighbor thing figured out. Please keep talking about it until we do. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.