See if you can guess which of these stories are true:
My next-door neighbor once told me I had to tear down my fence because it leaned six inches into the airspace above his yard.
My other neighbor recently hosted a late-night party accompanied by loud rock-n-roll and perfumed by… ah let’s call it “herbal incense.” (Yeah, that stuff is legal in my state. Sigh.)
Last year, one of my neighbors called the cops because somebody dared to park in the street in front of his house.
Another time, one of my neighbors came to my house to chew me out because somebody down the road from us was shooting fireworks on the fourth of July. (What did I have to do with somebody else’s fireworks? I’m still unclear about that.)
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. And yeah, all those “awful neighbor” stories are true. So when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31
), I sometimes wonder: Did he really mean MY neighbors? Because those guys can be real jerks.
Am I supposed to love all the jerks in my world? Is that what Jesus did? Let’s find out.
The Noisy Neighbor
Bart had a big mouth—and he wasn’t above using that mouth to get attention, even if people didn’t like it.
It seems that Bart—known as Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52
—spent most of his days sitting outside the gates of Jericho, shouting the familiar refrain, “Alms for the poor!” Some folks gave him money or scraps; most ignored him. Then one day a large crowd came pushing past his beggar’s post, and he overheard someone say that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Bartimaeus may have been blind, but years of begging had built his lungs to full capacity. He started screaming, “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
Ever been at a football game or parade when some noisy jerkwad starts yelling in your ear? That must’ve been what it was like for many in the crowd that day. Mark reports that, “Many rebuked [Bartimaeus] and told him to be quiet” (10:48). But this noisy neighbor wouldn’t be silenced: “He shouted all the more,” Mark says. “‘SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!’”
Common sense says you should ignore that kind of jerk, or else he just gets worse. Public etiquette requires this annoying, noisy neighbor to be escorted away from the longsuffering crowd. Well, common sense and public etiquette were wrong.
Jesus heard Bart’s cries and… stopped. And called him to come over. And listened to him. And then Jesus showed this noisy neighbor loving compassion—and gave him a miracle.
That finally shut him up.
The Smart-Mouthed Woman
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Hmm. That doesn’t seem the best way to make a good first impression on the Son of God, does it? Yet judging from John 4
in the Bible
, the smart-mouthed woman at the well of Sychar didn’t really care about that. Here’s what we know about her:
This woman was, well, promiscuous. (She’d had five husbands, and was now shacking up with a sixth lover.) She was snarky and dismissive. (“Are you greater than our father Jacob?”) She was argumentative. (“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”)
Really, she was kind of a jerk, needling Jesus with sarcasm and fault-finding.
Most men of that day would’ve just told her to close her mouth and mind her place. In fact, Jesus’ disciples “were surprised to find him talking with a woman” (4:27). But Jesus is not like most men. He took the smart-mouthed woman in stride. He listened to her. He turned her arguments into a conversation. Then he turned their conversation into eternal truth. The result?
That smart-mouthed woman became Jesus’ best evangelist to everyone in the town of Sychar!
The Traitorous Crook
If I didn’t know Jesus, if I wasn’t educated on the history that followed the events of Luke 5:27-32
, I’d be tempted to think my Christ had made a mistake.
“Follow me,” Jesus said.
Did he know he was speaking to Levi the tax collector, one of the worst kinds of people living in ancient Israel? Levi was a traitor who’d cashed in his Jewish heritage for a low-level, but lucrative, job serving the oppressive, occupying Roman government. He was a legal crook who robbed taxpayers of their money, just for his personal gain. THAT jerk was the guy Jesus wanted as a disciple? Seriously?
“Follow me,” Jesus said. So Levi left his tax booth. And he was transformed.
Taking the name Matthew, he joined Jesus’ inner circle of “The Twelve” disciples. He was eyewitness to Christ’s death and resurrection. Then he wrote the gospel of Matthew that preserved for history the best, and most complete record of Jesus’ teachings—including the now-famous Sermon on the Mount and a superb collection of Jesus’ kingdom parables.
Jesus made no mistake when he called a jerk named Levi—and we all reap the benefit.
Mr. “All of the Above”
“If I’m not good enough for you, then I don’t need you.”
I was 16 years old when I prayed this prayer. I was angry and arrogant, with a smart mouth and a noisy disposition. A few years prior, I’d been arrested for stealing so I’d decided to “clean up my act.” I started going to church, leading Bible studies, doing my best to remake my image. Then one summer my pastor preached a sermon about Judas Iscariot, the guy who betrayed Jesus.
“From the outside, Judas looked like a respectable follower of Jesus,” my pastor said. “He was so well regarded, he carried all of Christ’s money. But inside Judas was filled with greed and sin.”
Hold on, I thought. That sounds a bit like me…
On July 14, I argued with Jesus about that, until finally I’d had enough. “If I’m not good enough for you, then I don’t need you,” I prayed. “Starting tomorrow I’ll remake myself again. Without you.”
Yeah, I was a jerk to God. But he was patient with me anyway.
Around 2:00 a.m. on July 15, I woke in the silence of the night and I realized I could never make it without Jesus—and that there was nothing I could do to be “good enough.” That was his job—and he’d accomplished it perfectly when he died and came back to life. Like Blind Bartimaeus, I wept and begged him to have mercy on a jerk like me.
And he did!
Which brings me back to my original question: Am I supposed to love all the jerks in my world? Well, Jesus certainly loved a lot of jerks—including me. Maybe the least I can do is try to love my jerk-ish neighbors the same way.
Publication date: June 13, 2016