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Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

Jesus distills the law into two commands:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

— Mark 12:28–34, NRSV

The second greatest commandment is extreme. Most of us love ourselves a lot, so loving our neighbors as ourselves is exceedingly difficult. And we must also love our neighbor’s children as we love our own children.

Who are our neighbors? Does it include all other humans, or only those in our immediate vicinity? If the latter, hermits can avoid the difficulty of this challenging ethical imperative. If the former, we must love all people as we love ourselves.

The Golden Rule, as I understand it, is much more moderate:

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

— Matthew 7:12, NRSV

I would not expect a stranger to give their life for me. If I was poor, I would not expect a wealthy person on the other side of the world to give all of their wealth to help me. I may expect them to donate some amount to help others, but not everything and not to me. I would not expect my neighbor to love me as they love themselves.