You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
As he lay dying, the disciples of the Buddha were discussing how they would keep all the 227 monastic rules he had given them. They asked his closest disciple to ask him to prioritise a more manageable number. When he returned, the disciple told them unfortunately the Buddha had died before he could answer the question. So they were left with a lot of rules.
When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment of the Law he replied as above – the three dimensions of love of God, self and others. Three in one. Theologically it makes sense to place the love of God first. Psychologically, we have to start with love of self. The devoutly religious person, who is focused on loving God by obeying all the commandments and winning divine approval, can easily be a conflicted and divided individual who has never integrated their shadow and had the humility to accept their imperfection. The person who has done their work in the desert and learned to love themselves humbly, may appear quite unreligious, while fulfilling the greatest commandment. The unloving always bring religion into disrepute. But whoever obeys the ‘first and greatest’ commandment of life – to love wholeheartedly – doesn’t have to worry about the little rules. ‘Love and do as you wish’, said St Augustine.
Loving fluffy kittens, children, sweet-tempered old people, those who do what they say they will do, who make your life easier, great cooks, those who appreciate you adequately, people on all kinds of pedestals of your own making – these are the easy ones – friends – to love. Your enemies are a different matter. People who let you down, stop a decision going through by complicating the issue unnecessarily, the dishonest, unfaithful, manipulative and animals like rats and cockroaches: these are the ones who really help us obey the commandment. The difficult to love expose our hidden conditions and agenda. They reveal the inadequate degree of our self-knowledge and self-acceptance – our love of self. Thus ‘our enemies are our best spiritual teachers’, just as failure trains us better than success.
Sometimes, it is hard to see what one person sees in another who they love deeply and selflessly. It is hard to feel the love that St Francis felt for the leper he embraced or the dying that Mother Theresa rescued from the streets of Calcutta and tended as if they were Christ. A modern journalist would question whether they were each doing it for the camera. But to love wholeheartedly is to see what others, who can only love those who love them, cannot see.
We could say the truly loving see God or Christ in the unloveable. It would be as true to say that they see themselves in the other and the other in themselves. This enfolding of persons is God. When a person loves another there are always three involved.