The invitation today is to consider what happens when you extent love to yourself.   God’s great commandment for the past 5,000 years remains unchanged: 

You must love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.

Growing up with this clear instruction was confusing.  My neighbors were tough, and I did not love them at all.  When the girl next door punched me in the stomach for not going to her Roman Catholic church, loving my neighbor turned harsh.  But beyond the childish misunderstanding, the larger concern from the ancient love commandment centers on the lack of self-love I have for myself.  Simply put, I have not loved myself.  I have said, “If I loved my neighbors as I love myself, I would be in prison.”  I find it difficult to love myself.  I am quick to harshly judge a mistake, a misstep, and an errant emotion. 

Why would God prescribe self-love as the measurement of love?  Let me offer that perhaps God knew how loving ourselves would be the saving grace of a transformational path.  Johannes Baptist Metz writes that when we love ourselves, we express acceptance to God on how God made us.[1]  Loving ourselves becomes the vital and life-giving, even lifesaving, commandment. 

Perhaps your faith journey has including a sermon or six that over-taught you about your worthlessness, your sinful nature, and maybe, like me, you sang a hymn that said Jesus had died for “such a worm as I.”[2]  If these destructive words were planted in your soul, then my words may ring as self-focused and shallow.  I understand.  Yet you are invited into an expanded understanding of God’s words about loving yourself.  I invite you see loving ourselves as part of God’s great protection of grace.  In loving yourself, you more readily accept the vastness of grace as you struggle, fail and fall, and get back up again – and you will be able to extend this same vastness of grace and love to another.   From that position of loving, grace, and even mercy for yourself, you then will love your neighbor. 

[1] Johannes Baptist Metz, Poverty of Spirit, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1968), 4.

[2] Isaac Watts, “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?”