Prayer and loving your neighbor as yourself
A Christian Science perspective: A commandment that speaks of mercy.
Today, with all the ways to connect through technology, our neighbors are no longer just down the street, but also halfway around the world. Even as the neighborhood is expanding, I am realizing that Christ Jesus’ admonition to love your neighbor is requiring a deeper spiritual understanding, too.
In the book of Luke, the Bible records a discussion Jesus has with a young lawyer about two great commandments: to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself (see Luke 10:25-37). When the young man asks Jesus who his neighbor is, Jesus relates a simple story known today as the parable of the good Samaritan.
In this parable, a man is attacked by thieves who leave him half dead. While two men walk on by, a Samaritan stops to bandage his wounds. He takes him to an inn, where he cares for him until the next day, leaving the innkeeper money for any other needs.
During all the years of reading this parable, I saw it as a fundamental lesson about caring for our neighbors and doing what we can to support them from a basis of unconditional Christian love. And while this is true, I have felt urged to go deeper.
What recently got my attention was Jesus’ question at the end of the parable. He asks, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36) In response the young man answers that it was the one who showed mercy. Then Jesus, agreeing with him, tells him to go and do the same.
In a new light of prayer, I saw this parable as a call to gain and cherish a more spiritual perspective of what it means to be a neighbor to those near and far. I saw that the lesson of the parable was in how to be a good neighbor – by being merciful. I glimpsed that the spiritual attributes of mercy and benevolence expressed by the Samaritan are innate to my spiritual, God-given nature and identity and are therefore absolutely natural to understand and express.
In my study of Christian Science, I have learned that God, divine Love, is the creator of man – meaning the real identity of every man, woman, and child. I have also learned that because we are the image and likeness of God, the individuality of Love is expressed by each of us in infinitely individual ways. Understanding the power of Love, and expressing it in our thoughts and lives, we are able to truly help and comfort others. This is the effect of the spirit of God, the mercy and grace of Christ, blessing us and those we help.
Praying with the ideas from this story, I understood that I was to express the mercy and true charity that are inherently mine as Love’s likeness. And this meant truly loving everyone in their real, spiritual identity as Love’s likeness, or reflection. Learning to love others in this way comes about through an ongoing spiritual rebirth on our part – a spiritual awakening in which we look beneath the surface of material personalities and truly appreciate and value ourselves and others as God’s precious children, the offspring of Spirit, not matter.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, wrote of this spiritual rebirth in her book “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896”: “The prominent laws which forward birth in the divine order of Science, are these: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me;’ ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ These commands of infinite wisdom, translated into the new tongue, their spiritual meaning, signify: Thou shalt love Spirit only, not its opposite, in every God-quality, even in substance; thou shalt recognize thyself as God’s spiritual child only, and the true man and true woman, the all-harmonious ‘male and female,’ as of spiritual origin, God’s reflection, – thus as children of one common Parent, – wherein and whereby Father, Mother, and child are the divine Principle and divine idea, even the divine ‘Us’ – one in good, and good in One.
“With this recognition man could never separate himself from good, God; and he would necessarily entertain habitual love for his fellow-man” (p. 18).
Praying to be more merciful and gracious, and to see that those same attributes are part of the divine nature of everyone, we can be a better neighbor worldwide. We can more naturally and effectively help others, because we are expressing the healing influence of divine Love.