Guest Post by Bob Kuhn (Positive Impact Board Member)
Several years ago, I was preparing a sermon on a verse found in Matthew 22: 39, “… Love your neighbor as yourself.” This was the second part of Jesus’ response to a question about the greatest commandment of Jewish law. He claimed that the command to love your neighbor as yourself is only second to, and in many ways equal to, the command to love God. Being one of the two commands that Jesus ranked above all others, I knew that loving one’s neighbor as oneself was not to be taken lightly. In fact, I understood it to be at the very foundation of Christianity. Although I grasped its importance, my research soon made me realize that I missed its impact. It seems that the word “as” was being misunderstood.
My online search for commentaries on the all important commandment led me to a sermon by Methodist Bishop F. Gerald Ensley titled, “On Loving One’s Neighbor As One’s Self.” This was a keynote address delivered at the Second Methodist Conference on Human Relations held in Chicago during the high-point of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. In his sermon, Bishop Ensley points out that the “separate-but-equal” philosophy, which was prevalent during that time, was not in accord with the type of love described by the commandment Jesus quoted. The Bishop explains that the type of love we are called to observe is more of a qualitative love than quantitative love. Quantitative love would mean that we love our neighbors “as-much-as” we love ourselves. In other words, we desire as much good for him or her as we do for ourselves, thus justifying the separate-but-equal idea of segregation. Qualitative love goes a step beyond. Loving your neighbor as yourself, according to the Bishop, is loving “not as much as yourself but as though he were yourself. It means tying my sensibilities to my neighbor’s nerve-endings so that I feel things as he does.” (Ensley)
Considering our neighbor to be our equal can be different from considering our neighbor to be one with us. Bishop Ensley feels that equal in quantity is a good concept for a mathematical formula, but when speaking of equality among human beings, we need to take a different approach. In fact, qualitative love totally avoids the question of equality. Although there are differences, the concept of equality should not be applied to human qualities since none are intrinsically superior to any other. (Ensley)
While we no longer face the same issues of the early 1960s, such as separate-but-equal laws, we still struggle with attitudes similar to those common at that time. Even our language betrays our attitudes towards others. We often speak of Christian “outreach” instead of Christian embrace. We sometimes find it easier to condescendingly “give” what we think others should have, rather than try to find out what they want. To again quote Bishop Ensley, “Christian love … means tuning in on the other man’s aspirations.” (Ensley) This would mean that instead of treating others the way we think they should be treated, we show them the same type of dignity we would want to be shown.
I am far from being able to say that I truly love my neighbor “as” myself, but I am praying that I come closer daily to obeying the heart of that command. It is my hope that you would pray for the same.
Ensley, Bishop F. Gerald. “On Loving One’s Neighbor As One’s Self.” The Florida Methodist,
ed.Jack Detweiler, Editorial Director O.B. Fanning, Volume 23, No.4, (Sept. 15 1963): p. 5. From digitized document of The Florida Methodist, Volume 23, July 1963 – June 1965, p. 58. Digitizing sponsor: University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. Digitized by The Internet Archive 2016. Web. 23 November 2017. <https://archive.org/stream/floridamethodist2319flor#page/n57/mode/2up>