“Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself”.
(Matthew 22:37-39). These words of Jesus are much needed today. They are relevant for all of us. But, how do we love God with all our heart, soul and mind and how do we love our neighbours as ourselves?
For too long, the word “tolerance” has been cited as a notable and outstanding principle. It is used instead of love and peace. However, this word “tolerance” is never used in the Bible, and it also seems to be an excuse for those who do not really want to consider the true implications of love and peace, for today.
Christmas helps us to understand what love and peace really mean. Love and peace are much more than tolerance, especially when it comes to people of all kinds of colour, ethnicity, religious and non-religious beliefs, gender and status. Let us remember this for the New Year.
God’s meaning of love in Jesus Christ is not like tolerance at all; rather, it is the unconditional love that goes beyond self and gives all for others. It is selfless even when it is rejected. It cares deeply and never uses the word “tolerance,” because God created all human beings in his image. God’s love is eternal.
“Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is what Jesus did, that was what he was born to do. Not lukewarm tolerance, but radical, self-giving love brought Jesus, the Son of God, to the earth and to the cross.
Today some believe that they have given much to others, such as to refugees, to the homeless, to the sick and vulnerable and to the poor. They say that they do this out of duty and “tolerance.” They do not use the word “love”, because “the other” is not and never will be like them. “Tolerate if you must”, some people say, “but have a limit of how much tolerance you give, and beware of love!”
This New Year ask yourself whether you love others as yourself, or whether you just tolerate them. Ask yourself whether you reserve the word “love” for yourself and others who are like you. If yes, you end up with lukewarm tolerance. Tolerance changes nothing, gives up nothing, creates nothing, but above all loves nothing. Tolerance is threatening, proud, arrogant, insists on its own way and with little compassion.
By contrast, God’s love is without limits, it is risky, it invades every part of our lives, and it is not controllable by anyone. God’s love is costly; it will change you, but in turn, it will give you back new life, life in abundance. Jesus was born in a stable, no room in the inn. He was poor and yet rich, identified as King by the wise men of the East, from modern day Iran, Iraq or Arabia. They brought gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Yet the arrival of these foreign ambassadors alerted the Judean political elites to the danger, which this new-born baby presented to them. They planned to kill him, and his family had to flee abroad, to Egypt, to save him from certain, violent death. As a consequence of God’s love, God himself became homeless, a refugee, and his earthly family suffered with him.
Yet when we follow those who urge us to be “tolerant,” we will be forced to give up the true and real love for humanity, which God demonstrated, to us in Jesus, when God became like us, in order to make us like him in the way we, too, radically love those who are different from us.
Today we hear a lot of complaining, we hear a lot about discontentment, we hear a lot of rights claiming, we hear a lot about the undermining of values, respect and dignity and the idea of “tolerance” is used to excuse a lot of bad behaviour. What is missing is love! If we work together, despite our differences, we can change the lives of many.
Is there any hope for a world where according to the United Nations Refugee Agency over 68 million people are refugees, not to mention the homeless, sick, or vulnerable? The birth of Jesus says: “Yes, there is hope, goodness, joy and love for all in the world”. If we love God and love our neighbours as ourselves, this is the embodiment of God’s goodness, joy, and love for all. Thank you to those who give much generosity and self-sacrifice, who work tirelessly to bring and keep peace for the common good.
This New Year let us work together in unity, with mutual respect to maintain dignity for all. Let us demonstrate our love for God and neighbour in bringing comfort, encouragement and greater understanding to all. Let us teach this to the children and young people and to our communities and the nation. Let us work together in love, for the strength and power of love can build and sustain a peaceful and productive community and nation. One person cannot do this alone; we need each other, which includes those Gambians who live and work abroad.
The more love we give, the more broken promises, shattered dreams and destroyed lives are mended and healed. Those who have lost loved ones, whatever the situation, be comforted, and continue to have hope in God, be someone’s friend. God brought us Jesus to give us love and hope. Let us never let go of hope, peace and love and never give up on loving and helping others.
Jesus’ command, “love God and love your neighbour as yourself”, is a message that is relevant today, for everyone. Indeed, let us pay attention to these words and act on them, for it is never too late to give friendship, kindness and real love. This New Year, let us work together and take responsibility to make The Gambia and the world a place of love and peace, showing appreciation for all human beings. This New Year, we are called to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
On behalf of the Methodist Church The Gambia, I wish you all a Happy New Year, 2019, filled with love, good health, prosperity and long life. God bless you all.