Our neighbors are not hypotheticals

I miss the days when my social media feed was filled with cute baby pictures and videos of life hacks that I would never actually remember to use.

Today, my feed is mostly made up of news stories. Living during a pandemic in an election year in a country that has reached a tipping point with many important issues has pushed us all into headline overload. And if I’m being honest, that’s mostly what I read these days: the headlines. To get more information than that is exhausting.

A few weeks ago, I sat at Mass and paid close attention to the prayers of the faithful. We prayed for the sick. We prayed for elected officials. We prayed for the dead and for those preparing to enter the Church, but not a single person’s name was mentioned.

We all know that Jesus told us to love our neighbors, but as I sat in Mass that day, I remembered a question that was posed to Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29)

In 2020 and the time of social distancing, this question is particularly relevant. Today, we encounter our neighbor on social media and the internet more often than we encounter them in the flesh. During this election year especially, virtue signaling and generic posts about hot-button issues have become second nature. Our neighbor has become a hypothetical person of color, a hypothetical immigrant or a hypothetical mother with an unborn child.

This is a huge problem. Our neighbors are not hypotheticals. They are real people with faces and stories and hearts that only God knows and understands. And most importantly, they are people who God himself came to save.

Jesus responds to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with the story of the Good Samaritan. In the well-known parable, it is not the priest or the scholar of the law who stops to care for a man who has been left for dead by robbers. No, it is an outsider, someone who was considered “unclean,” whose heart was moved with pity to care for the man in front of him.

The priest and the scholar of the law had good intentions, but they were focused on the big picture. They were so caught up in hypotheticals and how things would be in an ideal world that they had lost sight of the person who was in front of them. It was easy for them to keep moving on because the person who was dying in front of them seemed inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

But this is not how God sees things.

In the Incarnation, God entered human history at a specific place and at a specific time. He has placed each of us right here, right now so that he can be present through us. But when we focus our attention only on large-scale problems, we ignore the suffering of the people closest to us.

To be honest, it is easier and simpler to love a hypothetical person. Loving real people is much more difficult and messy. Husbands come home late. The new family who just moved in has parties that get too loud and last too late. The homeless person who sits outside the office smells and is addicted to drugs and alcohol.

And yet, God does not only love the “good” parts of us. He comes into our lives because he loves every bit of who we are. He desires to fill every part of our hearts and our lives with his love even though we don’t deserve it. That is how he teaches us to love, too.

There are specific people in your life who Jesus is asking you to love today. Your neighbors are not hypothetical. They have names, faces and stories. They are suffering in a very real way right now and need help that you are in a position to give them. They are calling out, hoping that you will see them and stop to love them.

Loving your neighbor begins with actually loving the people in your home, loving the people who you work with, and loving the people you pass on your walks around the block. You may even begin by loving the people on your news feed. Whoever you choose to love, know this: God has loved that person first.

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