These words can also be found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Jesus responds to a tricky question by placing himself in the context of the great prophetic and rabbinical traditional which was in search of the unifying principle of the Torah, that is, the teaching of God contained in the Bible. Rabbi Hillel, one of his contemporaries, had said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is all there is in the Torah. All the rest is mere commentary.”
For the teachers of Hebraism love of neighbor derives from love of God who created man in his image and likeness. Therefore, it is not possible to love God without loving his creature: this is the true motive for love of neighbor, and it is “a great and general principle in the law.”
Jesus repeated this principle and added that the command to love one’s neighbor is similar to the first and greatest commandment, namely, to love God with all one’s heart, mind and soul. In affirming the likeness of the two commandments, Jesus definitively bound them together, as will all of Christian tradition. As the apostle John said with incisive clarity: “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
«You shall love your neighbor as yourself.»
Our neighbor – as the entire Gospel clearly states – is every human being, man or woman, friend or enemy, to whom we owe respect, consideration, and esteem. Love of neighbor is both universal and personal. It embraces all humanity and it is expressed concretely in the person next to you.
But who can give us such a big heart, who can inspire in us such kindness as to make us feel close – a neighbor – also to those who are distant, to make us overcome self-love, to recognize this “self” in others? It’s a gift of God. Indeed, it is the very love of God that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Therefore, it is not an ordinary love, not a simple friendship, not only philanthropy, but that love which has been poured into our hearts at baptism: that love which is the life of God himself, of the blessed Trinity, which we can share in.
Thus love is everything, but in order to love in an authentic way we need to know some of its qualities which emerge from the Gospel and from Scripture in general. We feel that they can be summed up in a few fundamental aspects.
First of all, Jesus, who died for everyone, loving everyone, teaches us that true love should bring us to love everyone. Unlike the simply human love we usually have in our hearts which is limited to relatives, friends and a few others… the authentic love that Jesus wants does not admit discrimination. It does not look too much at whether the other person is kind or unkind, beautiful or not so beautiful, an adult or a child, a fellow countryman or a foreigner, a member of my Church or of another, of my religion or of another. It is a love that is directed toward everyone. And we must do the same: love everyone.
The second quality of true love is that it leads us to being the first to love, not waiting for the other person to love us. Generally speaking, we love because we are loved. Instead, authentic love takes the initiative, as the Father was the first to love everyone. When men and women were still sinners, and therefore were not loving, the Father sent the Son to save us.
Therefore: to love everyone and to be the first to love.
Another quality: true love sees Jesus in every neighbor: “You did it to me,” Jesus will say to us at the final judgement. And this will apply to the good that we did and also, unfortunately, to the evil we did.
Authentic love leads us to love a friend and also an enemy: to do good and pray for him or her.
Jesus also wants the love that he brought on earth to become mutual: that one person loves the other and vice-versa, in order to achieve unity.
All these qualities of love help us to us understand and live the Word of Life for this month.
«You shall love your neighbor as yourself.»
Yes, true love leads us to loving the other person as we love ourselves. And this is to be taken to the letter: we must really see the other person as another self and do for the other person what we would do for ourselves. True love leads us to suffer with those who are suffering, to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, to carry the burdens of others. As Paul says, it leads us to making ourselves one with the person loved. Therefore, it is not a love that is made up only of feelings or beautiful words, but of concrete facts.
Those of other religious creeds also seek to do this by living 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 explains it in a very simple and effective way: “I cannot harm the other without hurting myself.”
This month could be an opportunity, then, to re-focus on love of neighbor. Our neighbor has so many faces: the person next-door, a classmate, the friend of a close relative. But there are also the faces of the anguished humanity that the television brings into our homes from war-torn cities and natural disasters. Once they were unknown to us and thousands of miles away. Now they too have become our neighbors.
Love will suggest what we should do in each situation, and little by little it will expand our hearts to the greatness of the heart of Jesus.