Geel is a charming town in Belgium with a unique population—a significant percentage of the people there have a diagnosis of mental illness. Host families to these persons are given no details of their guests’ diagnoses. Instead, they welcome their guests into the community like anyone else. “I have seen coffee served in a cafe with as much deference to actively hallucinating psychotics as to anyone else,” one observer described. Not surprisingly, people with mental illness flourish in Geel.
This unique city provides a beautiful picture of loving others like ourselves. Because the residents of Geel see mentally ill persons simply as people, they create space for them to live joyful, whole lives in community. Similarly, when God gave His people guidelines for how to treat others, He reminded them that even those who seemed most different from them—foreigners—were not, because they too were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:33). Seeing others as like themselves was the foundation for God’s commands to treat others justly, including loving foreigners and treating them “like native-born Israelites” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Often our cultures label and divide people according to differences—rich or poor, conservative or liberal, ethnic majority or minority. In the process, we can forget the shared humanity of all of us. Instead of working for common ground and justice for all people, we may stereotype and avoid people different from ourselves. For each of us, Leviticus 19’s command to love our neighbor should remind us to work to break down the labels and share life with others. As we live out God’s love, what unites us with others made in His image is always greater than what threatens to divide us.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: John 11:1-36
Read Exodus 22:21 and Deuteronomy 10:19 to see how God repeatedly reminded Israel of their past so they would love others who were foreigners.
What happens when you focus on the differences between you and other people groups instead of emphasizing what unites you? What steps can you take to share life with people who in the past you might have avoided?