By Brother George
Perhaps the most striking element that sets Christianity apart from other religions or philosophies is Jesus’ supreme commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself’. Matthew 22:37-39 This well known injunction goes hand in hand with another well known commandment of Christ. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”, famously known as the Golden Rule. Mathew 7:12 In the teachings of no other religion, philosophy or moral code is the principle of loving others as ourselves commanded as clearly and as frequently as it is in the New Testament. In fact Jesus went so far as to say that this commandment summed up the whole Bible!
The question is, how do we do this? Jesus himself gave the perfect ‘how to’ lesson when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37 There we read how the Samaritan went out of his way to assist a Jewish man who had been robbed and beaten. In spite of his ethnic community, the Samaritans, being generally looked down upon and discriminated against by the Jewish people, and the victim being passed by in his distressed state by several elite members of his own religion and race, the Samaritan took compassion on him and gave of his time and resources to pick him up, cleanse his wounds, deliver him to a place of safety and pay for his care. There is a lot to learn from this story, one of the main points being that our ‘neighbor’ who needs our help is anyone, regardless of their race, religion, or any other distinction.
It’s not very often though, that we come across someone in as dire need of assistance as the Jewish man in this story. Neither is loving our neighbours as ourselves limited to us helping people who are in some sort of trouble. It goes a lot deeper than that.
A big clue as to how loving our neighbors as ourselves plays out in everyday life is given in the text of the commandment itself.….'as yourself’. First of all, we are to love ourselves. Obviously this would not mean in a haughty, selfish way. Rather, loving ourselves means that we have a healthy appreciation and respect for the life that God has given us. It means that we take care of the body we have been given. That we work hard to ensure that all our physical needs are met. It means that we will have good hygiene and health habits. We will take care of our mental health by filling our minds with reasonable positive thoughts about ourselves and guarding against negative thoughts and feelings, and on and on. When you come to think of it, it takes whole lot of thought and work to ‘love yourself’ doesn’t it? Really, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we fall into sleep that’s probably most of what occupies our thoughts and actions. Here’s a possible sequence of thoughts upon waking up.
1. It’s cold. I need to put on some clothes and turn on the heater
2. I need to shower
3. I’m hungry, I need to eat
4. I need to go to work or school
5. I’m lonely, I wish I had a partner
6. Etc, etc, until the end of each day
We put an enormous amount of time into loving ourselves and Jesus asks us to love others in the same way! I don’t think this means that Jesus is saying that we need to spend 24 hours a day 365 days a year loving others as ourselves to the neglect of ourselves. We have a primary duty to usually put our own welfare first in order to keep healthy and able to live life to it’s fullest. However it is obvious that God wants us to strive to ensure that the needs of others are met just as ours are.
Do the people around us or in our neighbourhoods also have a heater and decent clothes to put on in the morning? Do they have good housing or access to clean water and other amenities? Do they have decent schools and educational opportunities? Are there any that are lonely and need friendship? The list of their needs is just as long as the list of ours. In order to know how to love those around us as ourselves, all we need to do is just think of what it is that we need and want and then do our best to meet those same needs in others.
Of course, as I said earlier, we should start with ourselves. And of course this extends to our own families. But Jesus didn’t limit us to own own flesh and blood. He said neighbours. This means anyone we come across that has needs.
This will require some sacrifice. First of our thoughts. We will have to reallocate some space on the hard drive of our minds to save thoughts for others rather than ourselves. And it means a sacrifice of our time and resources to share with others. How this plays practically in our lives is between us and God. It starts with a willing heart and mind and perhaps a prayer that He will open our eyes to the needs of those around us and show us how we can practically meet them.