Image via WikipediaIn the Gospel appointed for tomorrow in the Revised Common Lectionary, we read of a lawyer who asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus responds with a two-part answer: "`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" (Matt. 22:37-40).
Both of these, love of God and love of neighbor, deserve significant attention. Martin Luther said that since God needs nothing, then true service to God must always be in service to our neighbor. The same applies to love. The way that we live out our love for God is by loving our neighbor. This is not always easy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew something about difficult love, said, "We can love our kith and kin, our fellow countrymen and our friends, whether we are Christians or not, and there is no need for Jesus to teach us that. So what does it really mean to be a Christian? Unreserved love for our enemies, for the unloved, love for our religious, political, and personal adversaries. In every case, this love was fulfilled in the cross of Christ." Love of the unlovable, of those who would do us harm, is the hallmark of true love, the kind of love to which people of faith are called.
The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love defines love this way:
The essence of love is to affectively affirm as well as to unselfishly delight in the well-being of others, and to engage in acts of care and service on their behalf; unlimited love extends this love to all others without exception, in an enduring and constant way. Widely considered the highest form of virtue, unlimited love is often deemed a Creative Presence underlying and integral to all of reality: participation in unlimited love constitutes the fullest experience of spirituality.
According to its website, the unique mission of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love is:
(1) to study the benefits of benevolent love for those who give it and for those who receive it
(2) to bring the results of research to the wider public in understandable and practical format
(3) to sustain an international dialogue around the possibility of global human enhancement through the application of a new science of love
(4) to encourage discussion within spiritual traditions about love for a shared humanity, rather than for some small fragment of humanity
(5) to develop an ongoing dialogue between spirituality, theology, and science around the idea of unlimited love as the ultimate ground of reality.
A premise of the Institute is that far more attention is given to negative states of mind than to those that are life giving and positive. For instance, over 100,000 scientific articles have been written on depression and pschizophrenia. Yes, only a few dozen have been written on "other-regarding" love. They say, "The dignity of the human species demands that this imbalance in scientific focus be corrected by providing an alternative to the “disease model.” Interesting! Can self-giving, other-regarding love be the key to living to our full human potential? I believe so!
So, we come back to Jesus' words from Matthew. We are called to love our neighbor. Of course, neighbor does not mean only the person who lives next door or down the street. The neighbor is anyone who needs our attention, anyone in this global community who suffers, who is hungry, who needs shelter, who needs to know that they are not alone. The neighbor is not limited to those like us, who have the same skin color, who worship the same way, who's politics align with ours. Our neighbor may just be someone with whom we have serious disagreement, someone who might just seek to do us harm. I'm reminded of Martin Luther King's principles of nonviolence. He said that nonviolence does not seek to defeat the person, just the evil. He said that love is the ultimate tool that will defeat the forces of evil in our world.
We have the ability to harness the power of love if we chose to do so. However, it will not happen as long as we fear those who are different, or as long as we seek to exert military control without also looking for the common ground that results from our common humanity.
Love of God and love of neighbor - embrace this concept and change the world around you!