30th Sunday of the Year (a) 2017
It is not the first part of that reply from Jesus that intrigues me; when he replies to the Pharisees question: “which is he greatest commandment” by saying “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, amd with all your mind”. No, this isn’t what intrigues me, but rather the second part, “You must love your neighbour as yourself”. Why this intrigues me is because I know a lot of people who don’t love themselves, indeed, don’t even like themselves.
It is true that most of us don’t think as highly of ourselves as others do. So, for example, when I go into schools and I ask the children to do a little test for me. I ask them to take a piece of paper and write on the top of the paper: ‘things I like about myself’ and then ‘things I don’t like about myself’. I know from experience that the children have no problem writing down a long list of things that they don’t like about themselves, but find it hard to write down more than one or two things they like about themselves. But then I ask them to swop papers with the person beside them, and invariably their neighbour writes down lots of things they like about the other. I could do that here, the same exercise, but we don’t have time, nor paper and pens! However, I hope you get the point; as with children so with adults: we can often have a low opinion of ourselves. Rightly or wrongly I think this is normal. However, there are people who go even further, who really dislike themselves, I mean really dislike themselves. So, how does the Lord’s words apply in this case: “You must love your neighbour as yourself” when you have no love for yourself?
It’s a difficult one and there is no quick solution. But what can help is to remind ourselves that we are complex and even mysterious creatures. How else do you describe someone who is created in the image and likeness of God? We are, all of us, created in the image and likeness of God. When God created us He smiled. And no matter what we do to harm that image He continues to smile. And why does He do this? Because He loves us. He loves us even though we don’t love ourselves. Love too is mysterious, and especially God’s love for us; so often it goes unnoticed; it passes us by unseen and unfelt. But what we should call to mind is that God loved us so much that He gave His only Son to die for us, and no greater love is there than when someone lays down their life for another. Well, Jesus did this. There was nothing more He could do to prove His love.
So the mystery of our being is deep and extraordinary. And why I am stressing this point is that we have, in faith, no right to dislike and especially, hate ourselves. When we realize who we are and the great God who created us and sustains us in being, then it can change the image we have of ourselves. Instead of giving in to self-loathing, I have to make an act of faith, that I am beautiful in the eyes of God.
All of us have two sides; a good side and a bad side. It is all too easy to see the bad side; the bad things we do, and as a result to have a low opinion of ourselves. But what about the good side? We must remember at times when we feel down, that we have our good side; that side created in the image and likeness of God; that is beautiful.
I can say, in faith, that we have no right to dislike and especially hate ourselves. No christian should ever do that, how then could we love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.