Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

7.2.1 Introduction

The commandment to love your neighbors, which is and must be inseparable from loving God (which is made especially evident in 1. John) is anything other than self-evident in the world.

For example: The Benedictine monk Notker Wulf in a report of an inter-religious meeting of the worldwide monk-dom in Japan: despite all similarities in mystic experiences across religion a Japanese monk will never understand the link between loving God and loving your neighbor. If he encounters a man fighting for his life, he would call to him “keep fighting, you’ve got this!” but it would never occur to him to put himself into danger to save the man. There must be some sort of reason if the man were to die (karma). To intervene into fate would be unwise and not the task of a monk. 

For example: Some of the extreme difficulties that Mother Teresa and her order experienced in India had nothing to do with Christian piety but had much to do with the fact that they were working with members of the lowest castes. 

The concept of loving one’s neighbor would have been equally as difficult to understand in ancient times when neither pity nor loving others would have been considered “values,” at most justice. In his Nichomanchean Ethics, Aristotle stated that “justice is the perfect virtue” and “in justice, all virtues are summarized” (Book 5, Chapter 3). The term αγαπη (agape), is almost never included in the secular literature of that age.

For example: A slave was considered a thing, a tool or a machine. As a consequence, a master was allowed to injure, beat, or even kill their slave whenever they chose without justification. Aristotle merely discussed that doing so in anger might be poor judgement, as the master only damages themselves financially (further discussion on the topic of slavery, see above.4.5)

The concept of “loving one’s neighbor” was already present in the Old Testament (as was the double commandment of love) however, the “neighbor” was only considered to be other Jews, not foreigners or pagans. Jesus’ demand to hate one’s enemies is not expressed word for word in the Old Testament but the meaning is implied there, especially in a lot of Psalms. The novel and unheard of concept was that this commandment applies to all people.

This revolutionary message was lost quickly in Islam. There it does not count for the “unbelievers.”

Loving one’s neighbor is the answer to God’s love, not the other way around (1. John 4). The Gospel comes ahead of the law. Only in this context is Jesus’ expectation to love one’s enemy understandable. Even so, however, it is a big expectation of “natural” man. 

Augustine, the church father, summarized the concept of love as the fulfillment of ethics nicely in the statement often misunderstood as sentimental: “ama et fac quod vis.”

The commandment to love ones neighbors is built into our social laws in institutions such as social assistance, food stamps, etc.