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Editor's note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.
“One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Saducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, “What is the most important commandment?” Jesus answered, “The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.' The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
By Bishop Jose Garcia
This commandment was part of what is called the “Holiness Code,” which called on God’s people to live a life that reflected God’s holiness. God had set Israel to be apart, different from the nations around them, in terms of their worship and reverence to God as well as in their relationships with one another, their servants, the poor, the stranger, and the marginalized in society. Loving a neighbor as yourself was totally counter-culture because the rule of love, compassion, and service to neighbor was to be part of their expression of living in holiness.
How do we love ourselves? I am not referring to a narcissistic, self-centered, conceited form of love of self, but to the way in which our everyday experiences show how we care for and love ourselves. For example, we seek nourishment, shelter, an education, a job, and good health. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if we are to fulfill God’s call to holiness in our lives, it will require from us the same care and concern for our neighbors, by seeking for them the same choices and opportunities for nourishment, shelter, education, work, and good health that we have.
Love for neighbors can be expressed through charity in the form of food banks, soup kitchens, clothing donations, etc. However, every person should enjoy the dignity of having choice and opportunity in a self-sufficient way of life. We can also express our love by joining the voices of the marginalized in order to address the systems and structures in the public and private sector that can change the root causes of hunger and poverty. Proverbs 31:8-9 admonishes the king to “defend those who are helpless and have no hope. Be fair and give justice to the poor and homeless.”
To “defend” or to advocate, as this text suggests, does not mean the marginalized do not have a voice, but that because they are the poor and oppressed, they lack the resources to defend themselves properly. They are shut out of the places of power. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we include their voices to make sure they have the same opportunities we would want for ourselves in seeking justice. In other words, we would follow the golden rule, “Treat others as you want them to treat you. This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about” (Matthew 7:12).
Bishop Jose Garcia is the director of church relations at Bread for the World.
Every person should enjoy the dignity of having choice and opportunity in a self-sufficient way of life.
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