In a previous letter, I asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In that letter I talked about what my friend, Rev. Kristian A. Smith (Breaking All the Rules: An Ancient Framework for Modern Faith, 2020) coined as Greatest Commandment Theology. In his explanation, he highlights the two greatest commandments Jesus gave as an answer to the Pharisaic lawyer in his attempt to trip him up with the following, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus tells those gathered “You shall love the LORD your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22:34-39).
There are several significant points most Christians miss in the second divine directive. The first point is the equivalency of the second commandment to the first one. The commandments are symbiotic, meaning that one cannot exist without the other, that one depends on the other. The biblical writer in the book of 1 John states an important tenet that clarifies this interdependency. To paraphrase, the author states that we cannot claim to love God, who we have never seen, while hating our brothers or sisters, who we see.
The second important point about this statement is loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Embedded within this statement is the basic concept that we must love ourselves. Maybe many of our societal problems are rooted in a lack of self-love. Maybe our self-esteem standard is measured by the social media moments people share and post. Self-love is a matter of considering oneself worthy of being recognized and dignified as fully human. With this being the case the second greatest commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself is tied with us recognizing and dignifying the humanity of everyone else.
The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights Preamble states, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Why? Because, it goes on to state that the disregard for human life has had been a stain on the conscience of mankind and has resulted in barbarism the likes of which should never play out in a civilized society. The UN’s document was drafted in 1948 following 200 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Jewish Holocaust, to name a few.
It is important to realize that Greatest Commandment Theology is key to living harmoniously. We should also keep in mind that Greatest Commandment Theology of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself is not exclusively Christian. These same concepts exist in other faith and humanist traditions.
Blessings and peace be upon you.
Rev. Corey L. Brown, MDiv