I’ve read through these passages many times, but only this week noticed an interesting shift in the way Jesus reoriented the entire Law and its fulfillment around himself. Consider the Golden Rule:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19.18)
After love of God with all one’s heart and life, Jesus considers love of neighbor the greatest commandment (Mt 22.36-40).
I’ve often made the point that ‘self-love’ is not a bad thing. After all, how are we supposed to love others “as we love ourselves” if loving ourselves is either impossible or evil? Love of others, per the Golden Rule, is a function or expression of love of one’s own self. No one who hates himself can love others.
This is still true, but I’m intrigued by the change in perspective this undergoes in Jesus’ teaching. John picks up on it. In his first letter, St. John (1Jn 2.6) writes “I am not writing you a new command, but an old one.” Indeed, if Jesus had merely repeated the Golden Rule (“Love others as you love yourself,” or “Do to others as you’d have them do to you”) then in fact there’s nothing new here. But John immediately continues (v. 7), “And yet, I am writing you a new command.” Old but new?
Jesus doesn’t shy away from the standard (old) version of the Rule. In Mt 7.12 (cf. Mk 12.31; Lk 6.31) we find, “Whatever you want others to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” This is the “old” rule. So what’s “new” about Jesus’ articulation of the “old” rule? Doesn’t he just repeat it? No.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13.34)
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (Jn 15.12)
See it? Love others not as you love yourself (old rule) but now as I have loved you (new rule). Note the shift. It’s monumental, and it could not have been otherwise for Jesus’ Jewish audience. Not only does Jesus essentially edit the Law (which no good Rabbi did), he makes himself the measure of its fulfillment and appropriation. No longer is self-love the point of departure for genuine love. Now Christ’s loving life and death constitute that point of departure. It’s not that the old basis of ‘self love’ is false. It’s still true that no one who hates himself can love others. But not everyone loves him or herself. With the self-relation spoiled and fragmented, we have in Christ the truest embodiment of love (for self and for others). Jesus thus replaces every self as the point at which the self can know whether it is loving itself and others.
Paul maintains this shift as well. Note that when the “old” rule is stated, it is expressly identified with the Law:
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Gal 5:14)
This is to speak of love from the perspective of the Law. But when re-spoken in terms of its fulfillment, Christ replaces the self as measure, standard, and point of departure:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4.32)
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5.2)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5.25)
As Dwayne reminded me today, for Kierkegaard, God (in Christ) is the middle term of the love relationship. Christ becomes the effective protagonist in our own self-narrative in Works of Love as the God relationship displaces the self-relationship by way of divine command without negating it.