Abba John the Dwarf said, ‘A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top.’ They said to him,’ What does this saying mean?’ He said, ‘The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must trust, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.’
—-Abba John the Dwarf
In the 1960’s there was a movie called: “Dr. Strangelove.” The simplistic plot was about a ridiculous plan of a retaliatory nuclear attack. The plan was ridiculous and so was the name of the man, Dr. Strangelove, who formulated it. This Abba’s is based on the biblical record of a conversation that occurred between Jesus and a lawyer. He asked Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is a difficult, demanding, somewhat strange command. The fascinating thing about the wisdom of the monk is that he tells us to begin with something we can see. As much as we would all desire to see God, we can’t see God in the flesh but we do see our neighbor. The key to experiencing God is understanding the depth of His love. God loves us at our worst and we are challenged to love our neighbors at their worst.
All too often when go for what is easy, quick, and painless the result is the foundation of our spiritual house is sinking sand. The love of neighbor is the key to understanding the nature of God. He is a loving, understanding creator and not a cruel and harsh master. To the contrary, with a heart of compassion and mercy, He welcomes sinners into His kingdom. They don’t get the “cheap seats,” but receive a regal welcome. The beginning of that journey is to see God in His creation. Loving His creation – cheats, liars and thieves – is loving Him. Maybe this is a strange love to many of us, but it is the way God loves.
Lord help me to grasp this most difficult teaching of loving my neighbor. All too often our neighbors are those who hurt us the most. Allow your grace and my understanding of your love to rise to a level that allows this love to flow from me. In the act of such love we find an elusive peace that brings us closer to you.