Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
“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 neighbour as yourself.” And what is to love your neighbour as yourself? Who was “a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” “The one who showed him mercy.”
No matter how many times we hear this parable, it always presents us with a challenge. We must always ask ourselves, am I loving my neighbour as myself? Regardless of how we define neighbour, whether it’s our literal neighbour or our global neighbour, this story challenges us to really examine our lives and consider whether we are being “moved with pity” and showing mercy to those who are in need. It forces us to ask, whose suffering do we ignore? Whom do we walk past? Whom do we neglect?
And this is not a general question - this really is about our daily living––at work, in our hobbies, at school, and particularly at home. It’s about whom we consider worthy of our attention and whom we don’t. If you want to know who the neighbour is that you should be loving more, let me ask you: Who are you the hardest on? Who do you hold to the highest standards? Who do you judge the most harshly? Maybe it’s a group of people; maybe it’s an individual. If it’s the latter, I’m guessing maybe it might be a family member. I might ask, who do you coddle the least? Discipline the most? To whom do you show the least mercy? For whom do you have the least pity? Drawing in last week’s sermon, for whom do you have the least compassion?
Love your neighbour as yourself. Who are the people you thought of when I asked those questions, the ones you love the least? Was it someone you get annoyed with at work? Was it a neighbour on the block who never mows their lawn Was it a family member?
Was it you?
Ah, there’s the rub, as Hamlet says. Love your neighbour as yourself implies that you love yourself. But how many of us can say that we really truly do? Can you honestly say that you love yourself? That you are a good neighbour to yourself? Do you show mercy to yourself or feel true compassion or pity when you look in the mirror after a hard day?
I suspect it’s rather the opposite. In fact, we tend to ignore our own suffering, to neglect our own needs. We are the hardest on ourselves, we judge ourselves the most harshly, we hold ourselves to higher standards than those around us. And when we fail, we say things to and about ourselves that we would never say to or about someone else. We coddle ourselves the least, and discipline ourselves the hardest, and we take pride in that. We feel proud when we say no to ourselves––anybody been on a diet or exercise plan this past year? And we feel shame when we make things easy for ourselves. Honestly, most of the time we love our neighbours better than ourselves. How often have you stayed up late working on something for someone else, rather than going to bed and getting a good sleep? How frequently do you say “yes” to someone else, even though it means a “no” to your own needs? Christians, particularly, in our eagerness to follow Jesus and to love our neighbours as ourselves spend so much time on the first half of that commandment that we forget about the second half. Love yourself.
Now, I could tell you that you have to love yourself, and show compassion and mercy for yourself, because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. And this is true. We all know about the airplane warning that you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, so you can help the person next to you, otherwise you pass out from lack of oxygen and then you’re both in trouble. You can’t love others, or have compassion for them, if you don’t have love and compassion for yourself first.
But I think we need to take this a step farther. Why is it that we don’t love ourselves as much as our neighbours? Why are we so hard on ourselves?
Well, I think it’s because within the church, we have a deep and ambivalent tradition of seeing humans as sinful. I say ambivalent because on the one hand, using “sin” to describe the human condition can be a helpful way of accepting that humans are not perfect. We do hurt others without meaning to, we are enticed by power, our natural instincts are for self-preservation, not self-sacrifice. We have this inclination inside of us, whether we act on it or not, towards “the dark side.” Saying that humans sin helps us to describe all of this and gives us the vocabulary to address it, and then resist it.
On the other hand, though, too much emphasis on humans as sinful has the dangerous consequence of denying what actually happened through Jesus Christ: that through him, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, God has forgiven us. God has freed us from the power of sin, which means that sin no longer defines us. God has reclaimed us as children of God. God has made us worthy of love.
And so, to put it simply, when we treat ourselves as less than others, when we love ourselves less than our neighbour, when we “pass by” our own suffering, we are ignoring, denying even, the power of what God has done in Christ. When your internal running commentary puts you down and says things to you that you would never say to someone else, you are doubting and denying God’s forgiveness of you. I know that we all have those face-palm moments, when we blurt out, “ugh, I’m such an idiot,” or “I’m so stupid,” but saying those things to and about ourselves is, well, wrong. The things you do, the sins you commit, the hurts you’ve caused, they are not stronger than the forgiveness God has brought about through Christ. I’ll say it again: the things you do, the sins you commit, and the hurts you’ve caused are not stronger than the forgiveness God has brought about through Christ.
And so to love your neighbour as yourself is to love yourself with the same compassion and mercy with which God loves you. Don’t think that the Good News, the Gospel of God’s love for all, is meant for everyone but you. It’s meant for you. God has compassion for you. God has mercy on you. God forgives you and cherishes you and loves you. Yes, you are called to do the same for your neighbour. But you are also called to do the same for you.
I said last week that we are called to move beyond tolerating others to having compassion for them, and the same is true here. As a follower of Christ, you are called to move beyond just tolerating yourself to having compassion for yourself. If you are tired, rest. If you are burnt out, don’t keep pushing yourself, have mercy on yourself, and stop. If saying yes to others means saying no to yourself, then for God’s sake––literally––say yes to yourself, even if it means saying no to others. If you are sick, take care of yourself. If you find yourself snapping at someone else and then you judge yourself for that, have some compassion for yourself. God forgives you. You should forgive yourself. Last week I encouraged you to pray for your enemies’ well-being, that they would be happy, that they would not experience suffering. Do that for yourself. Pray for your own well-being. Pray that you would be happy. Pray for yourself that you do not experience suffering. These are not selfish acts. This compassion and mercy is what God in Christ already has for you, just follow Christ in this, as in all other things.
Love your neighbour as yourself. Be moved with pity, and show mercy. Have compassion. For yourself. God loves you, and when you are rooted in that love, and feel it deeply, when you have deep compassion for yourself as God does, you will find it easier to have love and compassion for your neighbour, and even for your “enemy.” In Christ, God has shown mercy on you, Go and do likewise. Thanks be to God. Amen.