Saturday, September 18, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: "Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

How many of us know our neighbors? Not just know them by the brief "hellos" you exchange when you both happen to be outside at the same time, but really know your neighbors. Have you ever invited them over for dinner? Cheered their kids on at their little league game? Brought a casserole over because they were ill? Kept an eye on their house because they were out of town? Probably not.

We live in a society where everyone keeps to themselves. No one really watches out for each other or takes pride in keeping their neighbors and neighborhoods safe. We are so private and guarded that we turn a blind eye to others so no one comes looking into our own windows. How can we be followers of Christ and not love our neighbors?

In the past few weeks, the local news has reported of two families in Cobb County that were living in absolute squalor along with their children. On August 16, 2010, police responded to the call at the house of James and Anne Cardona and their two pre-school age girls. The 5 year old weighed 160 lbs, three times the normal size of a child her age, and could not walk 10 feet without wheezing. The 4 year old weighed 89 lbs, two times the size of a child her age and was found wearing a urine soaked diaper and sucking a bottle. Both had rotted teeth, filthy bodies and lice infested, matted hair. The house was infested with roaches and spiders. Bare mattresses were in bedrooms with stained floors and walls. The house smelled of rotted food, excrement, and dirt. Neighbors knew there were children living in the house, but why did it take so long for someone to report the living conditions? They knew the little girls could barely communicate because of the neglect but who cared enough to save them from the neglect? Who loved this hopeless family?

The second family in Cobb County was living in far worse conditions than the Cardona family. In Mableton just a few days ago, police finally responded to the desperate pleas of a woman who was concerned about her neighbors. Christian and Ruth Swanson were arrested for animal hoarding and child cruelty after police found maggot infested food, garbage piled to the ceiling and two decomposing animals in the bedroom of the two young girls that lived in the home. The refrigerator was full of rotten food and there was excrement in the bathroom. Some of the toys found outside had not been moved in a year. What was interesting about this case was the fact that a neighbor had called to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) several times but was told they did not have enough evidence to investigate child neglect. Some of the neighbors reported hearing screams from the home. Others became concerned about the smell. Obviously no one from the state loved these children enough to take a concerned neighbor seriously.

What would happen if we all just stopped for a minute and introduced ourselves to our neighbors? What would our communities look like if everyone knew their neighbors and helped each other out if they were in need? How would the lives of children be changed if they knew that they lived in a safe and healthy environment because someone took the time to care for them? What would this world look like if every follower of Christ really loved their neighbors like the commandment says. Jesus' love would flow from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city. People would have a comfort and peace that only Jesus can provide because they would see His love for them in action, all because someone loved thy neighbor.

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