We’re still learning about Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. (“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad. Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le’olam va’ed” (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 might), and we’ve moved onto the portion that Jesus quoted when He said along with loving God supremely, we were to also love our neighbour as ourselves.
There’s something very curious about Christianity in that it’s been ingrained into us when we pray that we pray in the first person, as in “Lord do this or that for me”, and “Lord I need this or that” just as an example, but how did Jesus teach His disciples to pray?
Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus said, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
Have you noticed that many of our church songs are written in the first person as well, as in ‘I Love You Lord and I Lift My Voice’, ‘Just As I Am…’, ‘To Give My Life Away’, ‘My Only King’, ‘Jesus I Am Resting’, ‘I Belong To You’, ‘It Is Well With My Soul’, ‘I Am Chosen I Am Free’, ‘Here I Am To Worship’, ‘I Will Magnify You’, ‘I Live For Jesus’, ‘I Will Rise’, ‘You Are My Shelter’? Now, there’s nothing wrong at all with loving God in the first person, nothing at all, but we’ve possibly gone to the extreme when it comes to our personal relationship with Jesus, when as a body, we should be equally focused on ‘we’ and ‘us’. If we were less focused on ‘I’ and ‘Me’ we might be doing a better job of caring for and protecting each other within our own Christian family.
If we’re called to love one another, how can we do that if our mindset is always predominantly singular in its focus? If we’re more focused on ‘we’ and ‘us’, we’ll have a greater understanding of what it means to love others as much as we love ourselves.
How do we do that?
Matthew 7:12, Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
This is very interesting terminology…He said that Shema – which is to love the Lord with all our heat, soul and strength, and to love neighbour as ourselves – were the commandments that summarised all the Law and the prophets. Here, Jesus is saying that learning to treat others the way we ourselves want to be treated is the sum of all the Law and the prophets too.
This is what has been termed as ‘The Golden Rule’. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin talked about a school teacher who asked his 6th grade class to compose two golden rule lists; one list was for things they would want others to do to them, and the second list was of things they would not want done to them. On their ‘Do’ list, they wrote love, respect and help but on their ‘Don’t’ list, they wrote longer and more detailed things that were more practical and included things like, don’t hit, don’t steal, don’t laugh at, don’t snub, don’t cheat. The list of don’ts was much clearer and more specific and the result was a more likely change in behaviour. It’s more detailed because unfortunately the ‘don’ts’ happen more frequently and are more common.
But if we want to know how to love our neighbour, we need a ‘Do’ list that is more detailed so that loving our neighbour is not merely a subjective exercise.
Jesus was asked ‘who is my neighbour’ after He said we were to love our neighbour. The Hebrew word for neighbour is ‘Re’ah’, which typically means a companion, kinsmen or friend and it’s easy to love people we already know and care about.
Whenever we look in depth at the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, where Jesus teaches that the Samaritan man, who was of a despised race and intensely disliked by the Jewish people at that time, was the one who behaved with love toward the beaten man as opposed to the others who simply passed him by leaving him for dead, but that’s not the emphasis of Jesus’s teaching.
The emphasis and point of Jesus saying that we’re to love our neighbour is that we are to love them the way we love ourselves.
Sadly, this has been taught to mean that we should work more on loving ourselves because if we don’t love ourselves we cannot possibly love others. That’s not what this passage says at all.
Human beings always put themselves first; we already love ourselves a lot. We dress ourselves in nice clothes, we like to eat good food, we wash ourselves and put on nice perfume, we wear make-up and like to make ourselves physically presentable when we meet with others. We buy ourselves nice things to make our lives easier, more comfortable and to make us happy. When we make decisions we make them with our own best interests at heart.
The point is, we are already the centre of our own lives and universes and we love ourselves so much already because we always want the best for ourselves. What Jesus was saying is that we are to love others that same way, because our neighbour is just like us.
If we were the man beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, we would want someone to stop and take care of us and give us assistance to get the necessary help and protection.
By embracing this understanding we become just like our Rabbi, we become more like Jesus Himself; we imitate His behaviour and His love for others, putting their needs ahead of our own. He taught the people the Truth about His Word and what God really said in the Torah but He didn’t stop there; He fed them when they were hungry, He clothed them when they were naked, He healed their bodies when they were sick and diseased and He loved them when they were lost and without hope. He never compromised once, and He loved even those whom He knew would reject Him, those who hated Him and were jealous of Him, and who would ultimately manipulate the circumstances around Him until they resulted in His execution.
That’s what it means to walk in the dust of our Rabbi…our lives are to be focused and dedicated to loving and learning all we can about God and we do that by imitating and living like Jesus who was God in the flesh.
Love is not an emotion only, most of the time real love is a real, practical, decision to love and serve and give and sacrifice at the expense of ourselves for the benefit of the other in a way that we would want others to love and serve and give and sacrifice for us if we were in need. That’s what it means to love God and loves others as we love ourselves.