This morning’s blog is a bit unorthodox from my usual. But I can’t help talk about talk without talkig ahout the author and creator of love. Our God.
But there is a second commandment that is very similar: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” That is, second only to our love for God must be our love for others.
If that sounds like “preacher talk” or even trite, I assure you it is only because we find the command too difficult to obey. As it stands, it requires much more than we generally practice. But as with the first commandment which we studied last time, the problem is not with the demand but with us. And again, since this involves life’s highest ambitions, we must take the time to understand it so that we may better obey it.
What is particularly striking about this command is not just its demand to love our neighbor but the degree of love we must have toward him: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” That, if you think about it, is staggering! He does not say that we must love our neighbor more than we love ourselves; he says we must love him as or in the same ways that we love ourselves. In other words, the way we every day demonstrate our love for ourselves is precisely the way in which we are to demonstrate our love for others. It really is very easy to understand; it is much more difficult to practice!
You are in love with yourself, aren’t you. Face it, there is no one on earth more concerned with your happiness or your well-being than you are. There is no one more careful than you to see to it that you are not hungry! No one is more concerned with your rights or your health or your wealth–or your wardrobe for that matter. Our love for ourselves is obvious! It is evident by the fact that we go to whatever lengths necessary to care for our every whim.
Jesus says, that is how you must love your neighbor. His concerns are to be your concerns. His burdens are to be your burdens. His problems are to be your problems. His joys are to be your joys. And his needs are to be your needs–your needs to meet. In short, your neighbor’s happiness and welfare are to be the object of your ambition.
“That’s his problem” is a sentiment that betrays our violation of this command. So also is, “What does that have to do with me?” The demands of this second greatest commandment are very plain: we must think of and treat others with the very same kind of concern we show ourselves. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Nor is this a mere “extra credit” assignment; it is the on-going obligation of us all. To do any less is to stand in violation of the second great command.
When Jesus demands that we love our “neighbor” it is immediately clear that He is speaking in reference to more than just those who live on your block! Come to think of it, if we could just narrow the definition of “neighbor” enough, then the command may be easier to fulfill than it seems.
This is precisely what that lawyer tried to do with Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. Finding himself a bit threatened by this very command he “trying to justify himself, said, `Who is my neighbor?'” After all, if “your neighbor” may be defined as “my friends” then I pass this test very easily!
I am sure the lawyer was more than a little disappointed as he listened to Jesus tell that story of the man from Jericho being mugged by thieves and left for dead, and of the Jewish leaders (his friends) passing him by only to be helped by a Samaritan (his worst enemy).
You see, according to the definition Jesus gives, your neighbor may be someone you don’t even know. He may be someone who is unfriendly and unlovely and unable to repay you for whatever you do for him. He may be someone who requires your time and money and effort. In short, your neighbor is anyone whose need you see and are able to meet.The parable of the “Good Samaritan” makes it just that obvious, doesn’t it.
The problem with fulfilling this command, then, is not found in the command itself but in our own self-centeredness. We are so absorbed with ourselves that there is little room left for those who need us. Think how this would sweeten your marriage. Your church! Your every relationship! Virtually all of life would be made more beautiful if only we would crawl out of our own little worlds enough to obey this second greatest commandment.
Self vs. Others
As usual, Jesus here turns our society’s ideals on their head. His demand runs exactly opposite to the advice of modern counsellors. We are told today that our greatest, most fundamental need is a greater love for ourselves. Indeed, if we would but learn to love ourselves more, we are told, we would find all of life sweeter. “Self-esteem” has become our highest ambition.
It is incredible how the world can be so consistently wrong in its ideals, but here it is again. It is abundantly obvious that our love for ourselves is precisely the problem, not the solution! If we were not already so in love with ourselves we would love our neighbor more! Our relationship with him would not be hindered by self-centeredness and pride; by lovefor him it would thrive and prosper to our own pleasure and his. “Love your neighbor as yourself” implies not that we need more love for ourselves but that we already love ourselves quite enough and that we should instead redirect that love to others! In fact, self-love by very definition runs contrary to true love: “love seeks not its own,” the apostle Paul says. Love, by the nature of it, demands a focus on the good of others.
It is precisely our self-love that ruins our relationships with others! But Jesus has the perfect and so obvious cure for all that–“Love your neighbor as yourself!”
What we need, Jesus says, is a redirection of our love. We must turn it outward (for a change!). We must focus on the good and help of others, not allowing our natural selfishness to get in the way