To Love Our Neighbor

“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mt. 22:39)

I was once asked to arbitrate between two neighbors.  One of them was easy to know, work with, and care for.  The other was difficult to know, hard to work with, and challenging to care for.

Before sitting down with them together, I decided to visit them separately.  I choose the easy guy first.  After sharing his issues, he said,  “The problem with Joe is that he doesn’t love his neighbor—me—as himself.”

Very quickly I said, “No, Fred, that’s not the issue.  The problem is that Joe treats you exactly like he treats himself.  In fact, he’s nastier to himself than to you.  You only see him now and again.  He never escapes from tearing into himself.”

Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  If we honor and respect ourselves, we’re more able to honor and respect our neighbors. If we despise ourselves and hate our life, it can be very difficult to love and have concern for others.  For better or for worse, we tend to treat others as we treat ourselves.

I won’t get into all the reasons why Joe was so difficult.  Some terrible things had happened to him while growing up, and he had—mistakenly—blamed himself.  Without breaking any confidences, I reminded Fred what Joe had gone through.  That didn’t excuse how Joe had been treating Fred, but it did help Fred to have more understanding.

If you identify with Joe, what words can I offer?  I encourage you to recognize that God didn’t give you life so that you would trash the gift.

I also encourage you to see that Jesus didn’t give His life so that you would dishonor your own.  If you continue to damage yourself in the face of Jesus giving His life, you’re saying that His sacrifice isn’t enough to prevent you from putting yourself on your own self-imposed cross.

The first commandment is to love God.  The second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  One of the ways we honor the first commandment is live into the second.  And one of the ways we can better love our neighbors is by learning how to love ourselves.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are you willing to let how God feels about you influence how you feel about yourself? If so, welcome to the land of accepting and loving yourself.  How does that land feel?
  1. Why should you love yourself? Because you are God’s child.  Because you are forgiven by Jesus.  Because you have the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Because God wants you to do so.  Is that enough?
  1. If anyone ever gave you the message that you were unlovable, they were wrong.  Chances are, someone gave them the same message.  Can you forgive them and the pain they have caused you?  Forgiving them will help you to love yourself.

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