In the Great Commandment, Jesus tells us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Sometimes, loving God seems to be the easier part of that mandate. While loving God and maintaining a relationship with a God who often seems hidden can certainly be a challenge, loving the person standing in front of us can be even harder.
We often love our neighbors in the abstract. We can give food to food banks and money to homeless shelters. These are good things to do. But what do we do when confronted by a beggar on the street, or when someone sits next to us in church who hasn't showered in a while? How do we respond when we are confronted with the realities of poverty among us?
What about the people we work with? It can be difficult to love a supervisor or a co-worker whose goal seems to be to make our own life miserable. What if there is someone who has spread malicious gossip about us? What if someone has let us take the blame for her own error?
Then there are the people in our own families. Sometimes it is hardest to love those that we are closest to. We know their faults and they know ours. Our spouses may grate on our nerves. Our children may be in the midst of rebellion. Our parents and siblings may still treat us like we are children. Especially at holidays, old battles can be re-fought and old wounds re-opened. How can we respond with love when we feel like we are coming under attack?
Yes, the mandate to love is quite a challenge. Jesus asks us to put other people first. He asks us to see God within those around us, even in situations when that is most hard to see. Jesus asks us to give of ourselves, to reach out to our neighbor in need, whether that neighbor lives under our own roof, or spends their days in the cubicle next to us, or panhandles us on the street. Jesus asks us to love as He loves - a tall order to be sure, but Jesus does not ask the impossible. We all have God's love within us and the capacity to share that love. We can smile. We can share what we have. We can offer a kind word. In doing so, we can begin to plant seeds of love around us. We can begin to respond to the challenge.