And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-3(NKJ)
I was late! Grabbing a cup of coffee and a breakfast bar I jumped in the car, backed full speed out of the driveway and was on my way. Inwardly I groaned when I saw my neighbor from several doors down waving at me. It wasn’t a casual, friendly wave, but instead a more demanding beckoning kind of wave directing me to pull into his driveway.
I glanced at the dash in irritation that now I was going to be even later and obediently pulled in. Rolling down my window with a forced smile to see what he needed I began our conversation with “Good morning! I’m late so I only have a sec, how are you this morning?”
This elderly gentleman had been one of the first of our neighbors to greet our family when we moved into the neighborhood several years ago. Always eager to talk, each time the kids and I would take a walk he would typically intercept us at the edge of his yard both coming and going. The weather, gardening, our dogs….the topics of conversation varied but consistent was his desire to engage. Two individuals on opposite ends of life we only had the “generals” in common. Obliging when possible my heart hurt for him recognizing that as an elderly widow his social opportunities were limited. When my younger children would later express frustration at these unintended pauses in our agenda I would try to help them understand. They became skilled at smiling and waiting patiently while I talked to “the old man.”
Although we probably exchanged names the first time we met, we never used them again; a smile and a “hey” were all that were necessary in our informal neighborly acquaintance. We made him cookies at Christmas. He bought chocolate bars from my son to support Boy Scouts. In the summer we exchanged goodies from our garden. Over the years we spoke less and less as life became busier for us and the children’s sports teams, lessons and social engagements replaced our leisurely strolls around the neighborhood. Our “relationship” had become one of simply waving and smiling as we drove down the road.
This made this morning’s events unusual. “I’m sorry to keep you, I just wanted to let you know that I have cancer….I’m dying.” I was completely unprepared and sat, staring at his humble frailty in stunned silence. “I’m so sorry” was all I could muster. He went on to tell me what the doctors had shared, the medical difficulties he had been having for months, and how long they said he had to live. I hadn’t even known he was sick.
“I made my peace with the Lord, I heard Him tell me everything was gonna be okay. My preacher told me to make peace with the other people in my life…so…I just wanted to tell you if I have ever done anything to offend you– I’m sorry.”
Conviction washed over me. My own heart’s contradiction slapped me in the face as I contemplated the fact that I was so initially irritated by his interruption because I was going to be late….to intercessory prayer.
Having gone on to be with the Lord only a few months later, my neighborly friend left me with a gift. He served as a tangible reminder of what I would have already said that I knew. In the Kingdom of God relationship trumps religion every single time.
Father, help me to love my neighbor as I love myself.