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“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?”​

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

The second greatest commandment of all time, the obligation to love those around us, is one that challenges every Christian. At first glance, loving seems incredibly easy – we love our family, we love our friends, and we love our significant others. However, as is often echoed by sermons and Bible studies, Matthew 5 teaches us that our responsibility lies much further than simply loving those who love us. As Christians, how can we love a world that hates us? As human beings, how can we love those – hampered by their past hurts, limited by their flesh, overwhelmed by their circumstances – who are incapable of requiting love?

For a few weeks in July[1], GIM was given the opportunity to partner with Milal Mission New Jersey during their summer program. Milal Mission is a faith-based organization that was formed to share the love of God with people with disabilities. The summer program was an abbreviated version of the program held during the school year. It began at 10AM, at which point each volunteer was paired with a “friend” for the day. Together, the two went through the day’s activities, which included worship, lunch, a physical education class, a music class, and an arts and crafts class.

The Saturday I visited Milal, my partner for the day was a man named James[2]. James is a man in his 30s who has limited communication abilities. He cannot (as far as I could tell) build complex sentences, but he can express basic needs such as using the restroom, eating, or drinking water. He drinks a lot of water. Not a fan of the sedentary lifestyle, James roamed about, schedule be damned, in search of excitement: books, snacks, and unguarded cups of water. He also sports the muscular physique of an athlete, and is much, much stronger than I.

During the lunch period, we had just finished eating when he burst out of his seat and sprinted outside to the playground area. I could neither restrain nor keep up with him. When I finally caught up to him, he was standing across a fence, unzipping his pants. Unsure what to do in this foreign situation, I stood frozen as he began to relieve himself right on the fence, his back turned to me and all the other participants enjoying the playground.

For all the difficulty that James caused by running around, one thing I never had to worry about was hygiene. Besides the playground incident, he exclusively used the bathroom to relieve himself, and after every bathroom break (frequent due to his ability to hawk unattended cups of water), he would do a full face wash, soap and all.

At one point during worship, James had finally taken a seat after returning from the bathroom, face still damp. I seated myself strategically to block him from running away to the water fountain again. As I sat there – studying his body language, noting the exits in the room, and mapping the possible permutations of his escape route – a skinny, lovingly weathered old man walked over and introduced himself to me as James’s father. After taking a quick glance at his son, James’s father reached into his pocket and took out a bundle of napkins. He then began drying off his grown son’s face with the most tender of strokes. As James’s father stood there, patting his son’s face, I sat and watched, tensely keeping my eyes dry.

As I reflect on James’s father’s act of love contrasted by my own egocentric “service,” I am humbled and reminded that at the very core of every outreach and program lies love. And this love, while expressed by our actions, does not stem from and is completely unrelated to ourselves. Even as a volunteer with GIM, supposedly sacrificing myself for the benefit of others, I was still warped into playing by my rules.

It wasn’t until I was reminded of the way our own Father loves us that I was able to extricate my head from my behind. As James’s father walked away, my conscience bellowed at the foolish arrogance of my perspective. Forget loving as Jesus had loved, becoming man. Forget loving as Paul had loved, becoming a Roman to the Romans and a Jew to the Jews. So caught up in my own agenda, I had failed to even attempt to understand the basic tenets of loving James. The gentleness and love that underlay the soft affection of James’s father still remain the most clearly imprinted frame in my Milal experience.

At the beginning of this post, I pondered just how we can come to love all of our neighbors. If my experience at Milal is any indication, it seems the first step is to look past ourselves. When we do that, we can learn from those who have already loved. After all, this action of loving is not new: it began with creation and peaked with the cross. Coupled with a foundation in the Word, I hope that GIM serves as an avenue to learn and express the love that was and continues to be gifted to us,

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” – John 15:12

[1] This essay was originally written in 2015 by John Kim.

[2] James’s name has been changed in the interest of privacy.

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