Day 21 (Friday) - Matthew 22:34-40

Artwork by George Courage

Artwork by George Courage

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

We talk a lot about the first part. It shows up in lots of sermons and lots of devotionals in lots of churches, including ours. But we don’t, as often, talk about the assumption Jesus makes in the second part. So while that’s not the focal point of his new command, we’re going to camp out there for a bit, with the assumption. Because his assumption is essential to how we understand the whole statement.

And Jesus' assumption looks like this. Before you ever step through your threshold to serve your neighbor, before you ever get out of bed to make breakfast for your spouse or your roommate or parents or kids, before you ever head next door to help the family next to you move a bureau, before you ever head over to the Point to throw them a party, before you show up with a hot meal for a family who’s just had a baby, Jesus assumes that you love yourself.

Do you? 

A lot of us don’t. We want to love others, sure. We want to give back, sure. We want to serve well, to love our neighbor as Christ does, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

But we can’t do any of this to the fullness we’re meant to because so many of us are not feeding and clothing ourselves. 

Let’s back up. Jesus lived in what is called a dyadic culture. People in his community, the people who would have heard this command, thought more communally than we do. They lived and moved and thought of themselves as a society like one organism, moving together in the world.  What was more important than their own personalities was the personality of their whole group and where they fit into it, how they functioned as a part of the whole. Rather than being a collective of individuals, a dyadic community was, as the Apostle Paul might say, one body with many parts...

People living in dyadic cultures, back then and now, need one another to know fully who they are themselves. And so it would have been assumed that if you love your neighbors, you also love yourself. You had to - you and the group were embedded in one another.

But our culture looks a little different and needs, at times, some reminders that one didn’t. 

Often when we are feeling insecure, when we make a mistake, or feel like we can’t keep up with the rest of the world, we treat ourselves in a way we would never treat someone we love. We often live as if Jesus said, “Love your neighbor instead of yourself,” and for so many of us, love your neighbor as you love yourself has become a double standard. 

But when it all comes down to it, we can only truly love our neighbors to the measure that we love ourselves.  If we are overly critical of ourselves, if we are always beating ourselves up, telling ourselves we don’t measure up, that the mistakes of others are forgivable but not ours, that comes out in the way we love those around us...because inevitably, we treat others like we've been treating ourselves.

Because eventually when we live like that, we’ll start to breathe out what we’re breathing in. If what we breathe in is self-criticism, self-hatred, anger or rejection, then that’s what will come out - sometimes in subtle ways - to our husbands and wives, our children, our friends, our co-workers, the Comcast guy, the upstairs neighbor who plays the drums all day and all night. We can only fully accept others as reclaimed and redeemed in Christ, re-envisioned for holy purposes, when we can accept ourselves that way too, when we know what it means and what it feels like.  We can't show others what we haven't learned ourselves.  

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

While we are beating ourselves up, calling ourselves names, insisting that we are not good enough, God is calling us beloved children, people bought with a price, saints in whom his Spirit dwells. While we are insisting that our fundamental identity is "sinner," telling ourselves that we're not good enough, while we are shaking a fist at our own reflections, shouting insults at ourselves - "J'accuse!" - we hold Jesus on the cross, struggling, says Simone Weil, "like a butterfly pinned alive in an album." 

When we accuse ourselves, we side with the enemy. 

Christ has risen and has called us saints. 

Yes, it is a process to live into that identity, as we've mentioned before. But writer and pastor James Bryan Smith writes that caterpillars who insist on staying caterpillars have failed to see their full potential when they were meant to become butterflies. True, they are caterpillars but something in them is meant to be more.

Monarch Butterfly, Siah St. Clare

Monarch Butterfly, Siah St. Clare

Which identity will they choose to live into, the old or the new?

It is no surprise then that the roots for the word chrysalis are shared with the roots for Christ. Because when we dwell in him, we are in process of becoming who we were meant to be. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. 

When we start to breathe in forgiveness, grace, self-compassion, worthiness in Christ, eventually, we’ll start to breathe it out on everyone else. We’ll start to recognize that feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the human experience - that everyone feels inadequate from time to time and that’s ok.  Christ has made us worthy anyway. When we can start to appreciate our own gifts and worth, when we are kinder and gentler with ourselves, we’ll begin to have eyes to see others’ gifts and worth, and to be kinder and gentler with everyone else around us too. When we realize that we are securely, unchangably, firmly loved, then eventually we’ll stop trying to hide from each other out of fear of being unloved.  When we can forgive ourselves and learn from our failures, then we are more forgiving of others’ failures and can encourage them to grow from them too. 

Old narratives are hard to change. We must keep soaking and marinating in the new narratives, living inside the chrysalis of Christ as we transform into saints. 

Can you imagine what would happen in our homes and our relationships and our community if we learned to live this way? Can you imagine how much more irresistible, how much more compelling, how much more incredible this community could be if we became more and more aware of the love and redemption of an infinite God, and exhaled more and more the kind of love and forgiveness and compassion that has been breathed into us? 

Pastor Brynn Harrington

Consider:

Are you ever unloving toward yourself? What kinds of things trigger negative self-talk in your life?  How do you usually treat yourself in those moments?  How does Christ treat you in those moments? What would it mean for you to start talking to yourself like you would talk to someone you love in those moments?

Pray: 

Listen. Sit in silence and listen. Where does your mind go? What narratives are you hearing about yourself? What is Jesus saying to you about those same narratives?

Embody:

Today is Friday again. A day of fasting. We invite you to consider fasting again today. Again, in a way that is medically and/ or professionally responsible. If it’s safe and/or possible, consider fasting from one whole meal today. Set aside a six hour block where you refrain from food entirely. If that sounds too extreme or dangerous, consider eating a diet of fresh fruit and nuts today until you join us at Shabbat dinner this evening. 

Pastor Aaron Engler


Endnotes: 

  1. 1 Cor. 12:12.
  2. Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly.
  3. Weil, Simone. Waiting for God.
  4. Smith, James Bryan. Good and Beautiful God.