“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We’ve likely heard this phrase from the time we were children, in Sunday School, in worship, in secular culture, and you’ll even hear it from the pulpit here at RCB on October 29th. But what does this mean? What does it look like to put our faith in action around this commandment.

To give a little context, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who are testing him and if he can “practice what he preaches.” Jesus responds saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” For me, the first commandment seems straightforward, to love God with everything you can give. Of course, what you have to give changes from season to season of life, but your job is to give it all. The second commandment though, I think is much more difficult, because, if we’re honest, how do we love ourselves? How often, when we harm our neighbor, as we are doing in the name of “loving as we love ourselves?”

We live in a culture that is deeply self-critical and seems to value success and perfection above all else. But is that loving to ourselves or others? If we speak negatively about ourselves, even within the confines of our own minds, then how do we expect that to not translate to how we speak to our neighbors, our colleagues, even our friends? If we use hurtful or hateful language in our internal narrative, then do we also use it with our neighbors, or do we not teach our children that they can also use this language in reference to themselves and others?

Just a few weeks ago, some of this hurtful and hateful language made its way to me at RCB, and it made me wonder, where are we learning and endorsing this sort of rhetoric? Is it possible that the hurtful words we’re directing at other people, are really because of the hurtful words we’re first directing at ourselves? Jesus preaches an unconditional love, a love that surpasses all understanding, a radical love of acceptance and grace. This is the kind of love that we are to love our neighbors with, but first, to love ourselves with. So, friends, when that self-critical voice sneaks in, remember, that to love your neighbor is to love yourself. Freely. Fully. Unconditionally. And maybe, just maybe, changing that internal narrative can change the way we speak to others, with kindness and grace as Jesus calls us to do.