In Luke 10:27 a young lawyer answers Jesus with a statement that has convicted me throughout adulthood: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
The loving heart, soul, mind and body I’m okay with.
And, unlike the lawyer, I’m not confused about who my neighbor is. It is everyone beyond my personhood. The one who is spiritually or mentally challenged, the dysfunctional family, and the physically needy — and it seems too often that those who are easiest to help are always at the back of the line.
What convicts me in the lawyer’s answer is to love these people as myself. Some days loving myself is lacking. And if what the lawyer said is true (and Christ said it was), then I should be ashamed of my paltry offering to others.
This Bible passage, also present in Mt 22:39, makes me ask: How much do I love myself? How gentle, understanding, patient, kind, and encouraging am I toward my own endeavors? Would I behave as coarsely toward someone who has made mistakes like my own? Would I speak to them in similar self-deprecating or angry words?
Whatever the level of care I give to myself is the same level I can give to my neighbor. The same dignity and charity expressed for others can be no greater than what I express toward my own being.
If I have but little love for myself — being part of the family as one who is made in the image and likeness of God, one who is the hands and feet of Christ, one who brings the Holy Spirit into a moment — then my ability to share that love is negligible. I cannot give away what I do not have. To fake that love is to bring deceit instead of Christ. As sad as it is to admit, I have been deceitful on occasion.
To the extent that I believe in and am open to the love from God, the more readily I can give the same to others. But here’s the rub: when I see myself as undeserving, the little holiness that manages to get in to my soul is all I have to give out. The selfishness of seeing my self as unworthy limits my ability to serve Our Lord fully.
Those failures I fear in myself — the brokenness, helplessness, and anguish — cause me to reject the people I encounter. These faults become interior mirrors that halt forward movement and cause a turning away from the same in the world.
If I loath myself for my shortcomings, I will direct that loathing toward my neighbor. To the level in which I can forgive and accept my blunders and breaks, so too is the level I can bring Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.
For, if I block my true self, I block the presence of Christ.
Like the neighbor left on the road by the robbers (Luke 10:30) I fear seeing my own nakedness, and being laid bare to others. I fear my vulnerability and of being exposed and helpless beyond my own ability. I fear the debilitating attack that will leave me repulsive and rejected by others — and myself.
Walking among the destitute has chafed against these fears. I’ve gratefully begun to see the person behind the poorness: The not-so-old single woman with no one to care that she is impaired by a stroke, the man that fixed school busses now homeless, hopeless, and suicidal, the lady who worked the flower shop lost to Alzheimer’s. These are my siblings in whom I see the nakedness of need.
It is among them that I realize I want to give more but I come up lacking.
Christ desires mercy. The trick is to have that for one’s self in sufficient amounts to offer it to others. And when I see this in myself, I find my spiritual belligerence unbecoming.