(watch here: https://youtu.be/D9TprULOIfI)
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.’ ”
David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about Frank and his neighbor, John. One night Frank’s dog brought him John’s rabbit, dead in its mouth. It was dirty, covered in blood and mud and leaves. Frank’s dog must have really played with it after he killed it. Frank began to panic because he knew how much John hated him and waited for any opportunity to get Frank evicted. So Frank took the rabbit, meticulously washed off the dirt and leaves and blood and dried it. Then he snuck over the fence and put it back in its hutch, leaving no trace. Frank thought, “phew, all is well. John will just think it died of natural causes.” Well, John knocks on Frank’s door the next day with a confused look on his face. “Did you see anything going on last night?” asked John. “Umm, nothing out of the ordinary,” muttered Frank. “The strangest thing happened. Someone’s dug up my dead rabbit, washed it, and put it back in its hutch.”
Poor Frank, all that work to cover up what seemed to be a mess and be a good neighbor! Perhaps if he was a good neighbor to begin with he would have been a little more aware of John’s life, certainly more aware of the empty hutch in the backyard for a day or two. Surely Frank’s dog was aware of the dead rabbit! How else would he have known when and where to dig it up?! Yes, Frank needed to work at being a better neighbor long before this incident with the dead rabbit.
But the fact that Frank took the time to clean up that dead rabbit and put it back in the hutch, albeit for quite selfish reasons, suggests he intuitively understood Jesus’ teaching even if he’d never actually heard it. At a very practical level, it behooves a person to at least take an interest in his/her neighbor if not love them. You never know when or how that neighbor’s life may have an effect on your life. No man is an island unto themselves. We all have an effect on each other whether we’re aware of it or not. All the little choices we make from day to day, all the unique ways we go about living our lives, they all add up and create effects. Our lives affect other people and their lives affect ours. None of us is an island unto themselves…
So if everyone’s lives affect the lives of others and their lives affect everyone’s lives, it would behoove everyone to better the lives of others. In bettering the lives of others, we are in effect bettering our own lives. Or, in sticking with Jesus’ teaching, if we but love each other we stand to be loved in return. Jesus understands how important it is for each of us to feel loved. We all want to feel loved, to feel secure and appreciated and valued. And for the most part each of us bears the heavy burden of feeling that love ourselves. We must first and foremost love ourselves before we can love anyone else and be loved by anyone else. Jesus taught, “love your neighbor as yourself.” This teaching presumes that you love yourself. You can’t love anyone without first loving yourself. Now at first glance this teaching seems to contradict everything Jesus taught us about loving others before ourselves, about being less selfish and more selfless. But dig a little deeper…is loving yourself necessarily a selfish act? How is being kind and forgiving and gracious and humble and supportive and encouraging to yourself selfishness? No, being in a loving relationship with yourself is not selfishness, it’s empowering yourself to be more giving for other people. Jesus wants us to love ourselves! Heck, Jesus loves us a whole lot himself! Jesus wants us to love ourselves AND love our neighbors…THE SAME WAY! We hear Jesus’ teaching and too often fixate on the command to love others before we love ourselves and that’s not how Jesus intended us to hear it. We are not commanded to deny ourselves but rather to love both ourselves and others.
Of course, it is just as easy getting caught up in loving ourselves without sharing the love with others. Make no mistake about it, Jesus’ command has two parts: love yourself AND love others…with equal gusto! I like to think of Jesus’ command as more of a causal relationship: we love ourselves so that we can love others. We don’t just love ourselves for the sake of loving ourselves. I think that’s where pride and selfishness enter in. No, we love ourselves so that we can better love others. There is a reason to love ourselves–so that we can better love others. Love yourself but don’t forget to love others.
And how are we to love others? The simple answer to that question would be to follow Jesus’ lead. But his love is perfect. How about a practical, day-to-day love for each other? Both Peter and Paul have practical answers to how we are to love each other. Peter wrote in his first letter, “finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (3:8) Unity of spirit–we are to nurture each other’s hopes and joys. Sympathy–we are to grieve in each other’s sorrow. Love for one another, tender heart, humble mind–we to encourage and support each other, forgive each other, be gracious with each other. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2) Each of us carries the heavy burden of loving ourselves. For some of us, it’s easy to love ourselves. For others, less so. Help each other bear that burden. Be encouraging, be positive, be uplifting. Highlight the strengths of others, downplay their weaknesses. We all know our weaknesses, help us live to our strengths.
We live in an interesting time, a time in which we can share in God’s love for the world. God loves us. God wants us to love ourselves. And God wants us to love each other. Jesus’ command reveals this to us. Let us rise to the challenge set before us. Let us fulfill Jesus’ command to love ourselves AND each other with equal diligence. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.