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No boundaries

Christ’s call to limitless love of God and neighbor

by Cynthia A. Wells

Following Jesus: We value whole-hearted obedience to Christ Jesus through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

“Good fences make good neighbors.” This dictum from poet Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” is rigorously debated among high school and college students. Is it necessary to build fences between adjacent homes? Are barriers meant to keep things in or prevent them from getting out? Do walls build community or breed isolation? Do we distance ourselves from others in barricades of self-protection? Do fences help neighbors get along—or don’t they?

If Jesus were to weigh in on the question, fence and neighbor wouldn’t be in the same sentence. We sense this clearly in Luke 10, when Jesus aims to break down the boundary the lawyer wants to place around the call to faith. The lawyer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (vs. 25) seems motivated by a desire to determine exactly what baseline parameters are required. Jesus invites the lawyer to answer his own question based on what he sees in the law. The lawyer responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 27). Jesus affirms that he has given the “right answer” and simply says, “Do this, and you will live” (vs. 28).

The lawyer’s retort—“And who is my neighbor?”—is telling (vs. 29). He’d clearly rather “justify” himself than consider changing his way of life. Jesus responds by sharing the story of the Good Samaritan, who is deeply moved at the sight of an injured man, and who defies social convention to bandage him, take him onto his own animal, bring him to an inn, and cover the costs of his care (vs. 30–35). Rather than literally answering the lawyer’s resistant query, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus illustrates how to be a neighbor.

It’s easy to find ourselves thinking like the lawyer: searching out the minimum requirements of our faith, placing boundaries around the call to follow Christ. Jesus, however, unconditionally beckons us to be a neighbor. Our ideal of neighbor is embodied by the Samaritan, who disrupted his schedule, opened his wallet, and ignored social norms to show love and mercy. In short, the Samaritan gave all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength to loving God and neighbor. We too are called to overcome the dividing lines that limit our ability to follow Jesus. We are called to a vocation of radical discipleship—a total tearing down of the boundaries we construct or which society imposes. We are called to transformed lives rather than to interpreting Jesus’ words to fit the confines of our comfort level. We are called to break down the walls that keep us from completely embodying our primary vocation as Christians: to love God and neighbor.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 issue of In Part magazine.
Cynthia A. Wells

Cynthia A. Wells is mom to Gabe, a member of Grantham (Pa.) BIC, and a professor for students at Messiah College, a BIC-affiliated school in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

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