On Loving Your Neighbor

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” Matthew 22:37-40.

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” Galatians 5:40.

We see so often these commands in the Scripture. Many of us can fully quote the entire text, never once allowing it’s meaning to enter into our hearts. We read these words, and we can quote these words, but we don’t even begin to contemplate the practicality of these words. What does it mean to love the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, and minds? What does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves? See, for me, this question is powerful, because it becomes a matter of this; do we read Scripture to know Scripture, or do we read Scripture to live it? Do we read the teachings of Jesus and immediately begin to dispute and look for excuses to not obey Him, or do we read them so that they can change us?

See, when I read this, my first question becomes; how do we do this? How do we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might. How do we love our neighbor as ourselves. In the story of the Good Samaritan, we learn that our neighbor is anyone in need. It is anyone that we come into contact with. It is the person who lives next door to you; it is the drunkard on the street corner; it is the immigrant seeking entrance into the land. It was the lawyer whom Jesus rebuked who asked, “and who is my neighbor.” It is the rich man who ignored Lazarus who was condemned to eternal punishment. What we find is that our neighbor is anyone in need, and to “love your neighbor as yourself” becomes the mystery. How do we do this?

In St John’s second epistle we find the very answer to that. We read, “And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.” (2 John 1:5-6). In this very passage he defines the love that the Lord speaks of. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.

See, we make the mistake of replacing the commandments with the command to love, and in so doing, replace His command to love with our emotional definition of love. When Jesus tells us that in loving our neighbour and loving God, we fulfill the commandments, we immediately begin our meditation with love. But John paints for us a different image. John paints for us this idea that to love our neighbor, as to love God, we first begin with the commandments. Rather than explaining what, he here gives us how. And this is important. To love our neighbor doesn’t mean that we attempt to force ourselves into this insincere emotional attachment to them. No, rather, love consists in walking in God’s commandments. We do not enter into hysterics, summoning emotional strength, attempting to force ourselves to feel this emotional love that our culture has ingrained in our hearts. Rather, if we fulfill God’s commandments, which are ever so simple, then in so doing, we reveal the mystery of love of our neighbor. To begin with love is to create a human, emotional ideal. However to begin with God’s commandments, His life, how He loved; then we understand how to love our neighbor as God did. Then, our love becomes the fulfillment of the commandments, because Christ becomes the foundation of our love. We stop trying to define love by our standards, and instead look at how He loves, both while He was present in the flesh, and how He loves us now. We see Him caring for the poor, for the hungry. We see Him forgiving those who have wronged Him. We see Him praying for His enemies, rather than seeking retribution for the wrongs done to Him. We see the very image of love when Jesus shares the bread and wine with he who would betray Him and then prays on the cross for the very ones who are crucifying Him.

When we meditate on this command to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and might; and the command to love our neighbor as ourselves; we must always bear in mind John’s epistle lesson here, that to walk according to His commandments is true love. And in walking in His commandments, in keeping His commandments, we will fully love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds; and we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves. And, in so doing, the one will fully complete the other.

Christ is risen!

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