“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:36-40)
Biblical love is not a platonic ideal that floats among the people in the world. Consider how many times Jesus calls us to act in the world – and it is love called to action to love your neighbor as yourself. As we so often remind ourselves and others: faith without works is dead. But then works without faith might be just fine… well, that is if loving your neighbor was either primary or essential to God. But then, the greatest commandment has nothing to do with our neighbors in and by itself. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.
Still, we are, as faithful people, called to love our neighbor. That can’t be too hard, right? Can’t this just be “Nike moment” – just do it! Just treat others as you would want yourself to be treated. But then the starting point become the problem. In talking to people about this I find there are variations people seemed to have adopted, for example:
- We should love our neighbors instead of ourselves.
- We should love our neighbors more than ourselves.
- We should love our neighbors, but somewhat less than ourselves
- We should love ourselves first and then we will know how to love our neighbors properly.
Think about this same balance and dynamic when we substitute “children” in for “neighbor”
But Jesus isn’t telling us any of these things. He’s simply telling us to love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves. He isn’t provoking an argument about whether or how much as much as he is indicating that self-love is a core component of who we are. It is a basic an element of the created world.
And indeed it is. Our self-love and pursuit of happiness is natural. We are all born with a survival instinct to find food and build shelters for ourselves and our families. But as with all things that are “natural,” pursuing our interests does not necessarily make us holy in the eyes of God. Such pursuits can make us happy or wealthy or popular, but the extent to which they can be good can only be measured by the extent to which we align our love to God. Which is why all of this comes back to the first commandment: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. But the primary question is always, “Do you love God first?”
The answer to this question will define all the rest, because all of our pursuits are in vain if they aren’t aligned to the love of God. Whether we are starting your own business or giving to the poor, we have to ask ourself: “What is at the heart of this endeavor?” If we are aligned to love of God in all things, then we have our bearings to align our self-love to God, and the outcome of that should define the way we love our neighbors.