Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
My dear encountered couples:
“Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.” Do that, and you are a saint. That's all there is to it. You will never have to worry about all the other laws; you don't have to memorize the Ten Commandments. Even Jesus pointed out that this law of love is the basis for everything else. Live a life of love, and everything else falls in place.
Ever notice how the things that sound the most simple end up being the most complicated? The ads for things like furniture and bicycles that come unassembled read this way, “Even a child can put it together.” Maybe some of them should say, “A child can put it together.” For someone with even a masters in engineering can practically lose his religion trying to figure out which part goes where and with what. Watch a golf match on television. A shot out of the sand trap alights with the smoothness of a seagull right next to the hole. You try it and find yourself not only off the other side of the green but on another fairway (if not in another sand trap).
Love is like that. When you read about it, feel yourself carried away on the gentle breezes of a love song, see it depicted in a “happily-ever-after” movie, you are enthralled and overwhelmed by desire to be the warmest, most loving person ever to have walked the earth. Then as soon as some poky driver keeps you from making it through the green light while he goes on his merry way, those love feelings become a thing of the past. Love to many of us is but a dream, a fiction, a slippery bar of soap. We find it difficult to make real. We find it the hardest thing in the world to practice even for an hour. On the Los Angeles freeway thirty seconds would be a world's record.
So, Jesus does it again. Like the simplicity of the sound of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” this “love God, and your neighbor as yourself” command is foolishness.
Anyone with the courage to attempt it finds it takes a lifetime of failures and repeated attempts to even make it to first base. But we not only have to get on base, we must make it all the way around to home plate where awaits us the crown of sainthood - along with a certificate of martyrdom. With that crown and the accompanying certificate, we will be qualified to live in heaven where it is constant loving and being loved. You couldn't stand it there unless you yourself become inundated by love, until you become as saturated with it as a sponge soaking in water.
In the early years of Christianity, we are told there were some living examples of love to imitate. A common saying about the Christians was, "See how they love one another." That's about the last thing that is said about us now. Examples of genuine love are not easily found. But it does reside in some homes, in some people. Unfortunately, it is often unrecognized, and more often unappreciated. Maybe that's because what is so often depicted as love in song and movie, isn't. And when we are given a share of real love we don't recognize it.
I certainly do not have the time now to attempt giving a course on what love is and isn't. But from my own many failures at trying to live it, and from books that seem to know what they're saying, I have come to this conclusion: Loving God, and loving your neighbor as you love yourself are not three separate things. They are all parts of one act of love. An act of real love includes and affects all three. When you truly love, you are at the same time loving God, your neighbor, and yourself.
Loving God means to try to do what he wants you to - to try to carry out his will. God's will concerns only what is best for everybody. So, when you are trying to carry out God's will, you are doing something that is good for you - it makes you a better person and eventually brings true happiness to you. And when you are doing something that makes you a better person, you then are led to bring good into the lives of other people, all of whom are your neighbors.
When you are loving yourself properly, and doing something that is truly good for yourself, you become more mature and worthwhile. Whether you study, eat properly, get needed rest, or pray, you develop. And the more you develop, the better you become, the more other people can benefit from you, and the more of God's will you'll be capable of carrying out.
When you love your neighbors, you show it by doing something good for them, and then you yourself will grow more in love, self- discipline, and in the likeness of God. And so, if you give it serious thought, you will see that the command of Jesus to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself are three things, not really separate from one another, but are always contained in each and every act of love.
What we usually think of as self-love, self-concern, self-interest, and all the rest of the self-things, are really not love at all. They are acts of self-destructiveness. These acts are not only unconcerned about God and neighbor, they are unconcerned about the really good of ourselves. They are the doing of something which we mistakenly think is going to be good for us, like eating a poisonous toadstool when thinking it is a nourishing mushroom. It is counterfeit or false love. And that is the type of love so often depicted today in song and movie. It is aimed at my needs, my pleasures, my desires without any real concern for God, my neighbor, nor my own real and lasting good. I not only don't develop and mature, but regress and become weak.
I might have already recommended to you a book that has been widely read and is still among the best sellers. It is one of the most excellent books that studies and explains in a very enjoyable way the many faces of love. In it Dr. M. Scott Peck gets to the real meaning of the word and how to recognize the genuine article.
The title is “The Road Less Traveled.” Dr. Peck gives us the help we need to understand what it is Jesus means when he tells us to love everyone. It is a book you will never regret reading, unless of course, you'd rather not know what serious effort love requires of you. To “love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and with your whole mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself” is the hardest thing, and the most beautiful thing you could ever do.