In the New Testament gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, it's reported that one of the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is in the Jewish law.
For his answer, Jesus drew directly from the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And the second commandment, Jesus said, is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
This obligation to love neighbor is, of course, not peculiar to either Judaism or Christianity. But it is hard to do.
Sometimes our neighbors aren't very lovable. And sometimes we're not very interested in loving anyone but ourselves.
Well, a new Baylor University study seems to shed a bit of light on all this. It found that religious people do tend to love their neighbors, but, well, ahem, not all their neighbors. Instead, the neighbors they love tend to be the ones who share -- or at least don't violate -- their values.
"The bottom line is that religiousness is linked with love of neighbor," said one of the researchers.
And yet when someone adopts rigid or authoritarian opinions about particular groups of people, the study suggested, love of neighbor tends to disintegrate, fall off, disappear.
When Jesus was pressed on the question of who is someone's neighbor, he told the story of the so-called Good Samaritan. This was a shocking story at the time because the hero was a Samaritan. It would be like someone in the Deep South in the 1850s making a slave the hero of a story or someone not long after 9/11 making a member of al-Qaida the hero.
So Jesus' call to love neighbor was radical and inclusive. It's fine to love nice people who looks like you and mostly act like you and hang out in your social clubs and whatnot. But how does that make you different from almost everyone else? The call of Christianity and some other faiths is to love everyone else, as well. Which means seeking their best interest, not necessarily yours.
Being what you might call a picky, or highly selective, lover is nothing to brag about. But that seems to be who many of us are.
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FAITH-BASED RESPONSES TO SOTU
So what were religious organizations tweeting about the State of the Union speech the other evening? Religion News Service has collected some here. As RNS notes, the annual SOTU is the high church service of America's civil religion. And as I noted Tuesday evening on Facebook, "There's America's diversity on the #SOTU platform -- Obama, Biden, Boehner -- black, white and orange."