One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
Television, newspapers, and Facebook continually remind us that we should love our neighbors. Give to this cause or run in that race or serve at the local homeless shelter.
We know Jesus says to love our neighbor, and he calls it a commandment. He couldn’t have been any clearer.
The thing is, Jesus didn’t just say love your neighbor.
When we take those three words – love your neighbor - out of this passage and plaster it on a bumper sticker or a Go Fund Me account, we lose how Jesus said the whole thing works
Listen carefully –Jesus is answering a question – and as Mark tells the story, the person is asking from a real desire to know the answer. We also want to see how this whole thing works, how Jesus can eat with sinners, mingle with the unclean, and attract crowds of thousands.
The first thing Jesus says is that we must love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. There is no should, Jesus doesn’t say you ought to, or try to – you must love the Lord our God Jesus is crystal clear.
And then Jesus says the second commandment is this: you will love your neighbor as yourself. Again, Jesus is clear. He says you will love your neighbor as yourself. And he finishes his answer with No other commandment is greater than these.”
Why this distinct order?
Because in loving God with all our hearts, our being, our mind, and our strength, we experience God’s unconditional love toward all of creation, including ourselves and our neighbors. When we love God first, we glimpse that divine spark in ourselves and every other human being.
Jesus knew that we needed to find that Divine Spark in ourselves before we can find it in someone else. We know ourselves – and we are much more likely to focus on what we consider shortcomings – all the things we know we have done or not done that were not particularly loving.
In loving God, we experience the unconditional love of the Creator. Loving God helps us to squint hard enough to see the holy in ourselves, and then we can recognize and honor the holy in others.
Loving our neighbor simply doesn’t work unless we love ourselves.
To love neighbor or self requires concrete actions. We are quite good at specific actions when it comes to our neighbors; we are not so good at those concrete actions when it comes to ourselves.
I will tell you that pastors are some of the worst offenders when it comes to caring for ourselves. Every pastor who tells you to care for yourself totally understands how hard that is. I’m pretty sure you can see the challenge coming for you to care for yourself. So, I also am taking up that challenge.
It may seem like a small thing, but I am going to stop telling myself that I need to lose weight and instead care for myself with healthy foods and exercise. No daily weighing in and no more guilt; instead, a check-in each day on my energy, and my sense of wellbeing. Does that mean I have no plan? Not at all, but the plan revolves around caring for myself. I am going to put that negative weight loss burden down.
The challenge also is to see how loving and caring for ourselves as beloved children of God impacts the way we love our neighbors.
I am posting this homily on the blog page at stjohnschapel.org. Please share how you are committing to care for yourself in the coming weeks and how that shift changes the way you love your neighbor. Sharing our faith is how we grow and how we come alongside each other to support and strengthen our community.
Jesus is clear – you must love God, and you will love your neighbor as yourself. We know this takes commitment and strength, and like those first disciples in the Gospel of John, we are afraid we will fail. We, like them, overcome our fear with Jesus promise that he will not abandon us nor leave us orphaned; he will send a companion to be our helper – the Spirit of God.
Jesus tells us that because he lives, we will live as well; that we will know that he is in God, and we are in him, and he is in us.
The Spirit is in us, Jesus says, and to love ourselves is to love God, to love the Jesus in each of us, and to love the Spirit that is our Companion and Helper.
That is the heart of the matter