On the way up to Manchester the other day I took this photo at Crewe station. What struck me about the sign was the translation of the verse (Mark 12:31). In my Bible the verse is simply translated “Love your neighbour as yourself”. The addition in this translation, ‘thou shalt’, got me thinking about the meaning of this commandment more deeply. This is a commandment, not just a rule of thumb. There’s a force and potency to those words, which I don’t feel as acutely when reading the translation given in my bible. The sign acted as a reminder of what I am called to because of my faith: a love that doesn’t work according to the rules of the world.
I’ve set myself a goal of reading the four gospels of the New Testament over the summer, and I’m still in Matthew. Today I was reading in chapter 16:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
The verse that really jumped out at me is verse 24 where Jesus says discipleship demands denying yourself. It’s the verse I decided to take around with me today (metaphorically aha). Reading it took me straight back to a couple of days prior when I was standing and looking at that sign in Crewe. Jesus says that the life of a disciple isn’t easy and involves forsaking yourself – because this is what love demands.
Earlier in chapter 7, Jesus has been talking about how we must love our enemies, for it is no trouble to love those who love us. The command to love our neighbour is a command to love those people who hurt us, wrong us, ignore us, irritate us and ignore us. This is what love demands. Loving others in this way takes energy, patience and sacrifice, which cannot be done without commitment and hard work. And it’s such hard work because we are sinful. This is why it is so good to read the Bible, it’s a model of perfect love – the love that we have already been shown through Jesus.
One of the problems I have is that love involves a constant choice – I must choose to ignore my own (itself wrongful) judgement of what other’s deserve. To go back to verse 24 again, I think this is where ‘denying yourself’ comes in, choosing to view and serve others in a way that ignores my own assessments of worthiness and instead obeys Jesus’ command to love in an irrespective way.
I’ve got such a long way to go on this one (haha, understatements). I pray that I would have a generosity towards others that is reflective of the generosity I have been shown through Jesus’ death, and that I would not let a hardness of heart seep in.
On a separate note, later today I was listening to a radio programme featuring Gyles Brandreth (clearly forgetting that I’m 19 and not 49) talking about his research into happiness. He spoke about the idea of ‘breaking the mirror’, i.e. being unconcerned about oneself and placing the focus on others. This for me echoes exactly what I had read this morning in Matthew 16:25 – to gain your life you must lose it first. What a great paradox! And we all know philosophy students love a good paradox.