The Easter season encourages me to reflect on Jesus’ teachings. Toward the end of his sermons that include the Beatitudes, he gives us the Golden Rule. This seems like a reasonable ethical standard for our actions today, assuming we know how we wish to be treated.
Later as he traveled on toward Jerusalem and crucifixion, he was asked which commandment was the greatest. He replied, first we should love God. Then he went on to state the Second Commandment: We should love our neighbor as ourselves. For both commandments he had reached back into the Torah to conclude that on these two hung all the laws and teachings of the prophets.
The Second Commandment raises the bar beyond what is required in the Golden Rule. In the Golden Rule, we are admonished to see others as ourselves, but there is no statement as to how we should view ourselves. If we are filled with self-esteem and confidence, then we will treat others well. But in our darker moments, we may wish to strike out against others as we may wish to harm ourselves. This can lead to disaster.
Jesus, by stating the Second Commandment in terms of self-love, puts an obligation on us that is more specific. What does it mean to love?
What Jesus means by love is explained by Paul in the passage frequently quoted in wedding ceremonies. Paul intended that it apply to how we treat all people. In modern language, he wrote that love is patient and kind, bears all things, believes all things, hopes for all things and endures all things.
Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. It is not self-absorbed, irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrong doing. It rejoices in truth and love never ends.
This requires far more of us than simple equality of needs. Paul makes love the most important characteristic of our acknowledgment of God: “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
What does this tell me? Jesus has placed the love of God and my fellow man at the center of my faith. God’s love for me is boundless, but mine is finite without his help. It is through his grace that he makes my love equal to his.
This faith leads me to specific actions because of love. I must help the fallen traveler, the poor, the infirm, the lame, the imprisoned, the widow and the orphan as if they were my family.
If we are able to accept God’s grace and act on the Second Commandment, then the First Commandment to love God follows out of the love.
In Jean Valjean’s song that closes “Les Miserables,” “To love another person is to see the face of God.”