Tbh, neighbors have been the bane of my apartment-living existence. I remember in college when the downstairs neighbors blared their music, I perfected the art of jumping in the air, tucking my knees and then driving my legs down as hard as I could to make the loudest possible stomp (I was really mature). I called the police several times in my Irving apartment because the college kids would get drunk and lock themselves out and then break into their own windows. I’ve stood on chairs and hit many a ceiling with a broomstick, and I’ve knocked on many an adjoining wall. And most recently, Matthew and I had to call the night security after walking in the door to find our downstairs neighbor outside in her bathrobe chucking rocks at our window and cussing because we had been “moving furniture for hours” and she was “sick of it.” (We hadn’t.)
And yet, Jesus clearly commands us to love our neighbors. He tells us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” followed by, “The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
You can’t argue with a commandment that clear. But if I’m being honest, I think it stinks. I don’t want to be nice to the screaming lady downstairs pelting my new patio furniture with stones. I don’t want to tolerate the blaring TV or “man up” and go next door to ask them to turn it down. I would love to park as close as possible to the over-the-liner in the parking lot so they have to climb through the passenger side door when they’re leaving for work the next day.
But there it is: ““The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Usually, this commandment of Jesus’ is used figuratively, like “love that person in traffic” or “love that coworker who gets on your nerves.” But you see, although the fellow commuter or frustrating coworker may come into our lives and wreak havoc once in a while, they’re soon gone like the grasshoppers in A Bug’s Life. We tend to neglect the literal meaning of “love your neighbor,” but our neighbors are the other ants, living with us in the tunnels. Our neighbors are there all hours of the night with their loud TVs; they’re the people we meet them in the parking lot and hallways, and the people we see in the leasing offices and at the pool (and hogging the grill).
And the same is true backwards, too. They hear our loud TVs at all hours of the night, they see how we react to the person who cuts us off when we’re backing out of our parking spot, and they see how gracefully (or not so gracefully) we handle issues with apartment management. They hear how we speak to each other when we’re sitting outside on the patio. Our enemies may come and take what they want and leave, but our neighbors are the ones who truly live in the light we are to this world—if we are shining our lights as we should and not hiding them under the baskets.
I’m going to take this a step further. I think the neighbor to whom Jesus refers is also the roommate or parent or spouse who lives in our own apartment or house. These people are our neighbors too, our neighbors who we are commanded to love as ourselves whether or not they do the dishes, whether or not they take the trash out, whether or not they ever leave the couch, whether or not they save space for our food in the fridge. Even in that moment of terror when we realize they deleted The Bachelor season finale to make space on the DVR for a rerun that’s already on Netflix, we are told to love. We are commanded to love our neighbors—those within our walls and those who are sometimes loud and intrusive enough that we think they’re within our walls—with the same self-sustaining love we have for ourselves.
Yes, it stinks sometimes. But can you imagine what would happen if we baked cookies for someone who throws rocks at our windows? (If she trusted the cookies and our intentions), wouldn’t that be so completely opposite from what she was expecting? What if we asked her how her day was when we saw her in the halls, and made an effort to get to know her? Our neighbors often have front-row seats to our reactions to life. And through our reactions, let’s not behave like slaves to a temporary prince of a broken kingdom. Rather, let’s present ourselves in everything we do as children of the one true King, as children of a King who fights for His kingdom through love and selflessness, and who will someday take it back.