Something we would find reprehensible in another, we find a way to excuse in ourselves.
I bet your mind correctly went to the Second Great Commandment when you saw the title: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But—I know you’ve thought about this—what if you don’t especially love yourself? I suggest that for most of us, most of the time, the person at the center of our life is…me! We care about and take care of our health, appearance, recognition, possessions, reputation, comfort, on and on.
Few would be concerned about all those things, but pretty much all of us pay attention to our self-image in some of those things. Even if that image is negative, we are all about validating our self-image. So even if I hate myself, the person at the center of my life is still ME!
Jesus asks of us—no, that’s not right, commands us—to elevate the neighbor to a position equal to me. (He didn’t make it up. He’s quoting his Father, in Leviticus.) So, all that attention to our health, appearance, what people think of us, and so on—equaled toward our neighbor.
I’m quite sure I’m not meeting this standard. This bothers me, makes me feel rotten, unworthy of what the Father and our Lord have done for me. And there it is all over again—I manage to get it turned around so it’s about me. As always.
Jesus clearly knows how our minds work, how self-deceitful we are. He didn’t get sucked into the all-about-me trap, but he knows how it pulls at us, because it pulled at him. (John 2:23-25)
It is significant, I think, that Jesus (and the Father) did not phrase the command as “put your neighbor above yourself”. They know that’s not really the way we work. They gave us a command that we can, at least for a few moments here and there, actually keep.
There’s another commandment though, right? The First Great Commandment is to love God with every aspect of our being. That does means above ourselves. And I think the first commandment truly does have to come first. Our natural me-at-the-center has to be pushed aside, displaced by God-at-the-center. Then, when that’s right, we will have a shot at raising our care for our neighbor to the “as yourself” level.
Here’s a check, one area where it gets real. We’re all pretty good at developing excuses for ourselves. In other words, forgiving ourselves. Something we would find reprehensible in another, we find a way to excuse in ourselves.
So one thing Jesus and the Father are saying is, “Forgive your neighbor as you forgive yourself.” The only way we can possibly do this is in recognition of what Jesus and the Father have forgiven in us. The only right response to the grace of God is to love Him with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind. And then we might take a fresh look at the neighbor, this time “as yourself”.