It must have taken a lot of gumption for a Christian German family to decide to hide Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War. If those Jews were discovered, it wasn’t just the Christian parent who was going to suffer, but the children, too. That is what it may mean to genuinely practise loving your neighbour as yourself.
When Jesus uttered that phrase in Mark 12:31, it was in response to a question about which is the greatest commandment. So Jesus responds by saying that loving God with your whole being is the greatest command and that loving your neighbour as yourself is the second greatest.
That last part is rephrased by Jesus when He says that you should treat others in the same way that you would want to be treated, you know, that ‘do unto others’ quote (Luke 6:31). Then He gives it another dramatic rephrasing when He says that the way you treat others is the way you treat Him (Matthew 25:40).
So, it’s not just loving others as you would love yourself, but loving others the way you love Him.
That is maybe worth a “wow.” The implication: the way I love you is connected to the way I love God. I can’t hug an immaterial God, but I can hug you.
In the Jewish tradition, loving your neighbour as yourself is considered by many noted rabbis as central to the Torah. They teach things like, if you despise any man, you despise God who made that man in His image (Tanhuma).
Hillel, a respected Rabbi said, “What is hateful to thee, thou shalt not do unto thy neighbour. This is the whole of the Law, the rest is only commentary.”
Then there is Rabbi Akiva’s teaching that states that if your own life takes precedence to that of another, it contradicts the principle of loving your neighbour as yourself.
That last one makes me think.
So that’s why a German hides Jews from the Nazis, because his very own life shouldn’t take precedence over the life of another person. I can’t say, “Hey I’d like to help but I’m risking my life to save yours. No can do.”
I can’t do that because your life is as important as mine. They both need preserving.
So here is a thought experiment.
I’m a German follower of Christ. I know the Nazis also send homosexuals to concentration camps to kill them. So this gay couple and their adopted child come to me for refuge. Is that any different from saving Jews?
I know they send people with disabilities, Romani (gypsies), Poles, Ukrainians, Jehovah Witnesses, communists, contrary Catholics, problematic Protestants, Baha’i, Freemasons, prostitutes, vagrants, drug addicts to the camps, too.
Should I bring them in or send them away? What if the list extended to Muslims? Would I protect them? What would I have done way back then, 70 years ago during the Second World War?
What would I do if the same kind of thing happened today?
My honest answer to that question exposes my commitment to the second greatest commandment.