Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love your neighbor as yourself

Our Life Group lesson today was from Mark 12:28-34. This is the story of Jesus' encounter in the temple with a teacher of the law. Jesus has just escaped traps set by the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadduccees, who had hoped to catch him saying something they could use against him. He had the best of it, though, giving apt answers to their duplicitous questions.

Now came the teacher of the law. This was a man whose job was to scrutinize the Law of Moses, and perhaps other of the sacred writings, and find laws that men should follow. They would pass these tidbits on to the Pharisees, who would proclaim them to be things all Jews should follow if they wanted to make it to heaven. His question to Jesus was, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

Those who heard him might have thought it a strange question. His job was to expand the law, not summarize it or condense it to one easy to follow dictum. I don't know what he expected to accomplish. Did he expect Jesus to avoid the question, saying all the laws were important, or some other answer? Jesus, however, gave him an answer in line with what he asked: Love God with everything you have; and love your neighbor as yourself. One of these he took from Deuteronomy, the other from Leviticus.

Strangely—at least it's strange to me—the teacher of the law agreed with Jesus. He said those two commandments did indeed summarize all the rest, and commended Jesus for speaking wisely. Jesus in turn commended him, and said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

The second commandment is giving me reason to think and meditate. What does it mean to love our neighbor as we love ourself? I see two ways the words (an English translation by learned men of the original Greek). One is: Love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself. That is the traditional interpretation. But a second possible meaning to these words is: Be yourself in loving your neighbor; or, love your neighbor genuinely, honestly. Not falsely or out of true love, because you mean it, not because you have to.

I like both interpretations. I imagine the first is the correct one, while the second is peculiar to the English translation, and that meaning probably isn't there in the Greek. But if the first is correct, we then have to consider what is an implied third important commandment: Love yourself. That flies in the face of Christian humility. We should consider others above ourselves. That's what we are taught. To love ourselves just doesn't sound right.

Yet, it is there, implied in the second great commandment. I don't think this means we should all become narcissists. I think it means we should 1) understand that we are a creation of God; 2) treat this part of God's creation with respect, as something of value; and 3) be satisfied with God's work as represented in us, i.e. realize God didn't make any mistakes when he made us.

That is something I can grasp. By "be satisfied" I don't mean to imply ending all attempts at improving ourselves. Strive for improvement, for God put within you the ability to improve: to learn, to grow, to mature, to move on. That's part of our makeup.

This was a good lesson. It caused me to think about the passage in a way I hadn't before. I like that.

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