Love neighbor, love self. This can't be news to you, gentle reader, so why am I writing about it? Most simply, it was mentioned in last week's Gospel reading. More profoundly, here's why: from a theological perspective, the greatest commandments has the effect of making love the "normative principle" of life. What's this? "Normative principle" means that life's decisions and interactions are to be measured against the principle of love. Put another way, it means the question we ask ourselves before acting is: what is the loving thing to do? For many of us, this will be a significant change.
Before arguing this further, let me define love for you. In this context, love isn't about warm fuzzy feelings or even about liking. Love is about the essential welfare and well being of the other. The definition of love can be stated this way: when the welfare and well being of the other is at least as important to you as your own, and you act on it, then the act is loving. From a theological perspective, it is the minimum definition; the ultimate definition being that which Jesus offered, namely "There is no greater love than that which is shown by laying down your life for another."
I'm offering this minimum definition because I think it is the one we can more realistically pull off--having the tendency to be a bit selfish. Plus, it can be done over and over, whereas laying down one's life is a one time deal.
Operating this way is much harder than it seems. Most of us enjoy making people happy. We may even "need" to do so at some level. Love as defined here isn't about happiness. Let's use this example: I meet a panhandler who asks for money. From his/her appearance and demeanor, I'm guessing the odds are good the money will be buying booze. So I decided not to enable this habit and refuse to hand over my loose change. Very likely the panhandler will not be happy. But I have operated on the principle of doing something to support his/her essential welfare and well being. So the act is loving. Make sense? Let's try another.
I expect my teenager to do his/her homework and certain chores around the house. Will he/she be happy about it? Not likely. But, this teenager is learning discipline, teamwork, a sense of responsibility, and laying the foundation for a more effective adulthood. So my requirements are loving.
How do you begin to incorporate this principle into your decision making? Very consciously and intentionally. Shifting to this will be hard because replacing an old habit with a new one is hard to do. But when I think about it being hard, I'm reminded that what Jesus had to do was hard as well--much harder than this. Plus, since I'm motivated to want to please God (see the last post) I can put up with hardship until the habit becomes more ingrained.
What do you think? Is this a principle you want to make normative in your life?