Jesus says to his first disciples and, through them, he says also to us: Follow me.
Much is therefore made in the life of the church about our need to dedicate ourselves to doing just that; to following the way of the cross, to living a life of self-offering as we seek to obey the first commandment – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
We are not as good, perhaps, at applying the second commandment correctly – to love your neighbour as yourself. This second commandment encourages us to care for others as we care for ourselves, rather than instead of caring for ourselves. In our enthusiasm to obey the first commandment, we don’t always get the balance of the second commandment right, which was recently summarised for me as a calling to live responsibly. This seems to tie in with what the second century missionary Bishop Irenaeus is often quoted as
saying: The glory of God is a human being fully alive.
I am reminded of the oxygen masks that sit above our seats on aeroplanes, and which we hope never to have to use. If the plane experiences difficulty and we do have to use those masks, then the instructions are clear – put on your own mask before seeking to help others to put on theirs. No doubt the same applies to life-vests at sea and in many other similar circumstances. We cannot take proper care of others if we do not first take proper care of ourselves.
This is not an invitation to self-indulgence, but to recognise that we each have needs which, if appropriately met, will enable us to become the people we are called to be, and thus to be more fully able to serve God and others. Many aspects of our lives may, indeed, require pruning in some way, rather than indulging, if we are to bear much fruit.
Sadly, self-loathing has become a significant problem for many today, and as a church we are surely called to reach out in generous affirmation – to proclaim that every living person is a unique child of God, loved by their creator, invited into a personal
relationship with their redeemer, offered a life in the Spirit whose fruit includes love, joy and peace.
As we seek to grow in that life and to bear that fruit – taking proper care of ourselves – we can hope to become more sensitive to what it is that we are being called to do in the service of others. Loving ourselves aright equips us to love others more fully.
May we therefore encourage one another afresh to observe the twin aspects of the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself – that they and we may become more fully alive, and may become more fully the people we are all called to be.