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October 1999

Love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt. 22: 39)

These words can also be found in the Hebrew scriptures (Leviticus 19:18), and Jesus quotes them in response to someone who had been trying to catch him out with a trick question. His answer is in line with a well established rabbinical tradition, begun by the prophets, which tried to understand God’s teaching in the Torah by looking for a unifying principle in all its books. One of Jesus’ contemporaries, Rabbi Hillel, had written, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is all there is in the Torah. All the rest is merely explanation." (1)

All Jewish teachers saw love of neighbour as a consequence of loving God. After all, He had created humanity in his own image and likeness, so it was impossible to love God without loving the people he had made. So this is the real motive for loving our neighbour. It is what has been described as "a great and general principle of the law." (2)

Jesus highlighted this principle, and he pointed out that the command to love your neighbour is similar to the first great commandment: ‘love God with all your heart, mind and soul’. In emphasising the similarity between these two commandments, Jesus bound them together inextricably, and Christian tradition has preserved the link ever since. As the apostle John so clearly states: "If someone does not love the brother or sister whom they have seen, how can they love God whom they have not seen?" (1 Jn 4:20).

Love your neighbour as yourself.

The entire Gospel shows clearly that ‘our neighbour’ is every human being, man or woman, friend or enemy, to whom we owe respect, consideration and esteem. Love of neighbour is both universal and personal. It embraces all of humanity and finds concrete expression in the person who is next to us.

But who can give us such a big heart, and stir up in us such a degree of kindness that we feel close to, and regard as neighbours, those who are least like us? Who can make us overcome our self-love, so that we recognise this "self" in others? It is a gift from God. Indeed it is the very love of God which "has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us". (Rm. 5:5).

So it’s not an ordinary love. It’s not just simple friendship or philanthropy. In fact it is nothing less than the love which was poured into our hearts at baptism. This love is the life of God himself. It is the life of the blessed Trinity, in which we participate.

So love is literally everything, but if our love is to be authentic we need to learn something about its qualities as they are described in the Gospel and more generally in Scripture. A few fundamental points sum them up:

  • Jesus died for everyone. By loving everyone he teaches us that true love is to be given to all. Often the love in our hearts is simply human. It confines itself to relatives, friends and a few others. But Jesus wants our love to be free of discrimination, having no regard for whether people are friendly or hostile, attractive or not, adults or children. This love doesn't notice whether people are members of my Church or of another one, of my religion or another. True love loves everyone, and we should do the same: love everyone.
  • True love makes us want to be the first to love instead of waiting for someone else to love us. Generally speaking, we love because we are loved, but the Father sent his Son to save us while we were still sinners and therefore not loving. So true love takes the initiative. In other words, we should love everyone, and we should be the first to love.
  • True love sees Jesus in every neighbour. At the final judgement Jesus will say to us, "You did it to me", (Cf. Mt. 25:40) and this will apply to the good that we do and also, unfortunately, to the bad we do.
  • True love makes us love both friends and enemies alike, praying for them and doing good things for them. Jesus wants the love that he brought on earth to become mutual so that one person loves the other and vice versa, in order to achieve unity.

All these qualities of love help us to understand and live the Word of Life for this month.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

True love means loving others as we love ourselves. This should be taken literally. We should truly see the other person as another self and do for them what we would do for ourselves. True love leads us to suffer with those who are suffering and to rejoice with those who rejoice, carrying other people's burdens. As Paul says, it causes us to makes ourselves one with the person who is loved, so it is not just a question of feelings or words. It involves real action.

People of other religious convictions try to do the same thing by putting into practice the so-called 'Golden Rule,' which can be found in all religions. It wants us to do to others what we would like others to do to us. Gandhi explained it very simply and effectively: "I can't harm you without hurting myself".

So this month could be an opportunity to re-focus on love of neighbour. Our neighbour has so many faces: the person next door, a classmate, a friend or a close relative. But there are also the anguished faces of humanity that television brings into our homes from war-torn cities and natural disasters. In the past they were unknown to us: they were thousands of miles away. Now they too have become our neighbours.

Love will suggest what we should do in each situation, and, little by little, it will open our hearts to the greatness of the heart of Jesus.

Chiara Lubich

(1) Shabb. 31a

(2) Rabbi Akiba

 

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