In Matthew 22, Jesus gives us two great commandments. The second of these, one that is often considered trite, is “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” There are three key aspects to this particular command that must be explored if we are going to follow it.
What the heck is love?
We’ve got 1 Corinthians 13, the so-called “Love Chapter,” which tells us a lot about what love could be. We’ve got John’s formulation: “God is love.” What really is love?
Love can be so many things. It is erotic. It is humble. It is humbling. Love requires me to do the things I love to do. Love requires me to do the things that I hate to do. Man, there are things that I really hate to do, and I know that Love says to me: “Dude. Get up off the arse, and go do it.”
Love can be a hug. A kind word. A smile.
Love can be a loaf of bread. A bit of change. A taste of honey.
Love is monumental. Love is elemental.
The fact is this: I can’t explain Love to you. At least, I can’t explain it adequately. I can say, however, that Love is what God compels me to do. God forces me to do this. God requires it of me. It takes many forms, many shapes, many guises—but, ultimately, it is what I am compelled to do.
Who is “thy neighbor”?
Well, it’s not just Fred across the street, or Wilma in the adjacent office. I would argue that “neighbor” includes everyone that ever lived here on Earth. These are our global neighbors.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Our enemies must be neighbors.
We live in an increasingly global community. Therefore, we are continually increasing our sphere of “neighbors.”
Finally, there is “thyself.” This is easy. It’s you! The reader. The hearer. The doer.
Putting It All Together
When I think about this “love your neighbor as yourself” business, I realize that if I was to act on that right now, it would be pretty crappy of me!
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I assume I’m not alone: I am so dadgum hard on myself. I ride myself so hard; I beat myself down; I beat myself up. I am the opposite of Mary Tyler Moore. I can take a something day and suddenly make it all seem worthless.
I have a shirt that I bought on a recent ski trip (my first ski trip, ever). The shirt has a big green dot on the back. Underneath it exclaims: “I SUCK.” Why? First, because I can only fall down green slopes. I do suck when it comes to skiing. Second, because that’s how I often feel. I can look myself in the mirror and say, “I suck.”
Now, if you’re my neighbor, and I turn to you and say: “Dude. You suck.” You are probably going to be unhappy with me. I don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to realize that this is not exactly what Jesus had in mind when he was laying out the second greatest commandment for humankind.
Repeat: You don’t want me to love you as I love myself.
You’d hate it.
You’d say: “What a jerk?”
Step 1: Love Yourself
At the risk of sounding all hippy and Barney influenced, the first step is to love yourself.
In John 13, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells the disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus, the Almighty Creator of the Universe in human form, loves me. He’s loved me so well, that he wants me to try to love others that way.
Our identities are formed by two vantage points.
First, we are who others think we are. People might think I’m cool. People might think I’m a total loser. Those perceptions can get into my head. If I’m not careful, I can allow them to define me—even if what others say is not at all the truth.
Second, our identity comes from who we say we are. However, just as the perceptions of others might not always be true, our self-perception can easily be false.
We’ve got to be honest with ourselves. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate ‘em!
There is a third source of our identity. It is a source that is too often overlooked.
The one and only God loves us. He sacrificed his son for us. He hung it all out on the line for us. He loves us with ridiculous abandon. It is a love that is unfathomable. It is a love that is so infinite that finite words cannot even begin to penetrate and describe it.
When we recognize that we are not alone (no matter how lonely or girl/boyfriend-less we may feel), we can begin loving ourselves.
When we love ourselves, we can love others.
When we can love others, we bring a little bit of the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth.