Today, our Gospel reading is likely very familiar. Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment by a lawyer. For those of you in the Read the Bible in a year program, I know that after our readings in Exodus, Leviticus, and now Numbers many of you would love Jesus to just point to those one or two laws that really matter. And in this passage, Jesus does that. He sums up all of the laws in what is called the Great Commandment. It has 3 parts.
Part 1 is – Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul. Part 2 is – Love your neighbor. Part 3 is – as you love yourself.
We have been talking about this commandment in different ways for weeks. Doyt has focused on Part 1 – Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, and soul in his Forum series at 10.00. This is a three-part series with the first one last week. We have two more in November.
In recent sermons, we have focused on loving others.
Today, I want to focus on the third part of the Great Commandment – as you love yourself. We are to love others as we love ourselves. Many would say that we need to love ourselves so that we can love others.
So, I want to ask you a question… how do you love yourself?
This idea of loving ourselves can feel hard.
We don’t talk enough about the importance of loving ourselves. In church, we hear the admonition to die to ourselves so that we can live in Christ. As Christians, it is easy to believe that our focus should be on loving God and loving others rather than loving ourselves. But Jesus says that we have to love others as we love ourselves. Loving ourselves is not an option.
There are different things that come to mind when we think about how we love ourselves. On the one hand, maybe we love ourselves based on things we have achieved or attained like education, wealth, success, maybe having lots of friends. These are good things so if we have them, we should love ourselves, right? If we just do enough well enough, surely that should translate into love.
Instagram and the media would say that loving ourselves is a matter of self-care. There is a huge industry just waiting to teach you to love yourself. But frankly, this is just another list of things to do or to “achieve.” You just need to set boundaries, exercise, eat right, meditate, rest, etc.. I think that these lists leave me even more tired and feeling like I am not enough.
It is almost like there is a secret to loving ourselves in the way that Jesus speaks of it.
Meister Eckhart, a 13th century German theologian and mystic says that Jesus alludes to this secret in some of his parables. Jesus tells parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.
In the parable of finding a treasure in the field, Jesus describes a person who discovers a hidden treasure buried in a field and, in great joy, sells everything they have to acquire that field and possess the treasure.
In the second parable, the person who finds the pearl of great price went and sold all he had to buy it. In both cases, these pilgrims have discovered something of great value. They went to great lengths to purchase the valuable thing.
Meister Eckhart teaches that the great secret is that the treasure is within us, the pearl of great price buried in the field of our lives is our soul…our true being that has been with us all along.
I dont know if you are tired of hearing about the soul or if when you hear the word “soul” you tune out. I want to encourage you to grab this concept and to go deep with it. The idea of the soul is the foundation to how we understand our being, our value, the value of others and how we relate to the world. All of these things are wrapped up in the concept of the soul. It is a theological framework that works.
We each have a soul. More than this, we are a soul.
Knowing our soul and being able to see it for what it is — the imago dei-the image of God -that is the pearl of great price.
This is a gift we receive at our first breath – the deposit of God’s image – a God part – in us and that remains with us forever.
Our journey is to learn to embrace our soul as our true self.
In the parables, the treasure and the pearl of great price were purchased. But of course, the knowledge and embracing of our own soul can not be purchased. Buying, or paying dollars would actually be easy.
Instead, this great pearl- beholding ourselves as we truly are- requires we give up a lot for it. That is much harder than writing a check.
We have to give up our self-image and our ambition. We work so hard to achieve. It is understandable that these achievements define us to others and ourselves.
We have to give up the need to plead our case of why we are “worthy” or “good.” We must let go of everything we thought we had – in order to see the true value of our meaning.
In fact, our task is not that of accumulation (which is so much of our consumer-focused society). But it is letting go of all of the externalities and entrapments.
And the tighter we hold onto the things that we think define us – our education, our success, and maybe even our failures, the further away we get from the true secret to love ourselves.
This can be hard because we judge ourselves on so many other things. We strive. We feel satisfied. We wrap ourselves in the stories we tell about ourselves. Some of those stories might make us feel like we should love ourselves. Some of those stories will make us feel unloved.
But, I am convinced that we cannot truly love ourselves based on any achievement, possession, or story.
First, these things are all temporal. If that is the basis of our self-love, then we are always at risk of losing it.
Second, it is a fiction. Nothing we have done, own, or do really changes the way we speak to ourselves in the quiet moments that we spend alone and are honest.
As a part of my training, I served as a chaplain at various places. In one of my sites, I worked with patients with dementia, and most were non-verbal. I was very new at my chaplain job and was very aware that I did not know what I was supposed to do. I was learning a lot. One of the things that I was learning was the ministry of presence. I didn’t have to do or say anything. I just needed to be there. I told myself that it was valuable because people were not alone…and that counts.
One day, I had a particularly odd visit with a woman who barely talked but would yell periodically. Her name was Steve.
Her yelling startled me. I did not know what it meant. I did not know if I was causing her distress. This was one of the hardest things for me because I didn’t want to cause discomfort or distress for patients.
After a while with this patient (maybe 4 yells), I got up to go. I reached over and grabbed her hand.
As a chaplain, I started out being very nervous to touch people. I felt like I shouldn’t touch them without explicit permission. And yet, this was often very hard to because the people I worked with did not talk and many could not hear making any communication difficult much less ascertaining if I could hold their hand or touch them.
This visit with Steve changed this conversation for me. I grabbed her hand. I didn’t ask. I just grabbed it. I didn’t ask because I had not been successful reaching her.
When I grabbed her hand, her eyes were full of life and they flashed at me. We were looking eye to eye with deep connection. I was so surprised.
I was just trying to get out of the room and then I was hit with a stare that I felt at the bottom of my shoes.
Steve was looking at me soul to soul. She saw me and acted as a mirror so that I saw myself. In that moment, I saw myself as an un-curated soul.
Steve did not care or know where I went to school or what kind of job I had. She did not know that I had kids or how much I love being a mother. Nothing about me or my curated life mattered to Steve.
It was a soul connection.
I was seen and known for what I am – the image of God. This is the secret to loving ourselves. We must see what God sees. We must see what Steve saw.
You might not have an opportunity to meet someone like Steve. But what are the mirrors in your life. When do you know that you are a soul and that is what matters. What strips away all of the externalities and accolades and reveals your true being to yourself?
This is our work. When we know ourselves for who and what we are, we do love ourselves. Understanding ourselves as souls created in the imago Dei, the image of God, fundamentally transforms the way we perceive and engage with our own existence. We come to recognize the inherent worth and divine essence within. This recognition is not an exercise in narcissism or self-esteem but a deep acknowledgment of the sacredness infused within our very being. The love we extend to ourselves is not rooted in ego but in a divine understanding that we are partakers in the divine nature, called to reflect and embody the love and compassion inherent in our loving Creator.
In loving ourselves as souls and the imago Dei, we participate in a divine dance of grace, cultivating a love that then can radiate outward, healing and reconciling a world in need. So, let us go forth, then, empowered by the knowledge that our self-love, rooted in the immeasurable love of God, has the power to transform both our lives and the lives of those around us.