“Greatest” and “New” do not mean only

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.37-39; my emphasis).

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should love one another…No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 13.34, 15.13-14; my emphasis).


As a Christian, I acknowledge, indeed, abide by the ancient Law to love God and to love neighbor and the command to love as Jesus loves.

Nevertheless, I need be aware and wary of an (my!) innate and very human response to Jesus’ teaching. For in my faithful rush to commit to keeping “the greatest” (the highest good) and “the new” (that which complements the good that came before), I may suffer an inadvertent blindness and deafness, so that I do not (cannot!) see, hear and heed what I have come to believe to be another important calling.

To wit, I, in following Jesus, can conceive and be capable of making the ultimate sacrifice in laying down my life for my family and friends. Nevertheless, I also can remain unmoved by the call to lay aside the rigor of my perspectives or the rigidity of my prejudices – in a word, to die to myself (aye, my self) – so to acknowledge and accept “the other,” anyone very different in person and in point of view, who stands before me.

© 2021 PRA

#thegreatestcommandment #thenewcommandment #lovingtheother #layingdownmylife #dyingtomyself #layingdownmyperspectivesandprejudices

4 thoughts on ““Greatest” and “New” do not mean only

  1. Paul,

    Your intriguing post sets forth an issue I had never thought about: Jesus’ statement that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends does seem to grant space for some sort of limitation on the willingness to sacrifice one’s life, doesn’t it? The question arising from the two gospels’ different treatments of Jesus’ “greatest” and “new” commandments seems, for me, to boil down to: Is a “neighbor” necessarily a “friend?” (This is one of those times I wish I had studied ancient languages, because I’m at the mercy of translators!)

    I had always thought that anyone who was in my vicinity, actually, anyone known to me in any manner, would be considered my neighbor for purposes of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” particularly as the “neighbor” is illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But, does loving my neighbor necessitate my willingness to die for her/him? Is Jesus suggesting that we must treat even those we don’t know well or might have differences with as friends nevertheless and be willing to die for them as well as for our own family and friends whom we know well and love familiarly?

    I feel very much in accord with your suggestion of the necessity of “dying to self” in order to receive, acknowledge, hear, and in some sense, serve “the other” whom we might not know as friend or family, might even have differences with, or might have been taught by our own “tribe” to suspect, mistrust, or hate. If that is not the expectation of the Gospel, how do the Gospel’s commands differ from ordinary human loyalty and love only for family and friends?

    I think this dilemma poses another of Jesus’ “hard sayings.” The two accounts juxtapose “neighbors” and “friends” and leave us to our own devices of putting together the questions “Who is my neighbor?” and “Who is my friend?” and deciding whether there is any room for difference between these questions in the Gospel, and whether, in abiding by the commandment to love neighbor as self, we can in good conscience make any distinction between the two. These are questions that I think become more and more pertinent as human life on earth becomes more connected while growing more complex and as we learn more about the wealth and power forces that have shaped and led us through human history, and not usually at all in the direction in which Jesus and the Gospel would lead us.

    Thank you, Paul, as always for helping me wrestle with questions we must all wrestle with in these times. I always deeply appreciate your perspective on what we face trying to live out our authentic identity as children of God.




    1. My dear Karen to your point — The two accounts juxtapose “neighbors” and “friends” and leave us to our own devices of putting together the questions “Who is my neighbor?” and “Who is my friend?” and deciding whether there is any room for difference between these questions in the Gospel, and whether, in abiding by the commandment to love neighbor as self, we can in good conscience make any distinction between the two — I say, “Amen! Precisely!”

      For, I think, the “neighbor”, given that Jesus quoted Leviticus 19.18, would have been understood by his hearers as referencing tribal (Israelite) affiliations. Same, too, for “friends”, although the Johannine understanding would be to include all (only?) those who obeyed Jesus’ commandments; that is, his disciples (thus, Christians).

      Rather I perceive “neighbor” and “friend” expansively to encompass all those who hath been formed in the image of God, which includes all people. Is this — loving all people — difficult to do? Yes, of course. If for no other reason than there always is the tension — the simultaneous, counter-directional pulls — between, in my acknowledgement of native specificity, my belonging to my group(s) and, in my equal awareness and recognition of my communality, my reaching out beyond the boundar(ies) of my group(s). And, depending on the circumstances, say, of threat and fear of “the other”, I will lean toward the former and gainsay the latter. Therefore, by virtue of my calling to be one-for-others, I, sometimes, force myself to reach out. Nevertheless, this conscious attempt/action is rooted in my belief that “neighbor” and “friend” include all people at all times and anywhere.



  2. And to your final paragraph and your expansive view of who is included in “neighbor” and “friend,” I say a heartfelt “Amen!!!” And then, to add a modicum of emotional honesty to my all-too-easy intellectual agreement with your interpretation, I will a little sheepishly edit my “heartfelt” to “mostly mind-felt” as the modifier for my “amen,” but along with that bit of honesty, I will pray for the earnest desire that someday my mostly intellectual agreement may inspire my heart to follow “wholeheartedly.” Between you and Richard Rohr, my current two chief mentors in the area of how to live in the consciousness that I am a child of God and, for my own sake and for the sake of Creation and of eternity, desire to learn to live as such, perhaps I will get closer day by day.

    With much love and thanks, as always, my dear friend,



  3. Paul & Karen,

    What a great discussion this was!!! Loved every word!!

    I just want to add that my security career required that you lay down your life forever anyone you were contracted to protect…. This got “real” more than once for me as I was in two workplace violence incidents and two domestic violence incidents. One of the domestic violence incidents resulted in me and Tim becoming Godparents to 5 siblings. As you are fighting (literally) to save someone from a domestic abuser we don’t think about laying down your life. I used to look at it as me trying to prevent someone from breaking the “thou shall not kill” commandment. Let’s just say I’m glad to have retired but I’m sure I’d still rush in to help someone in trouble!

    Much love to you both!! Amen!!


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