On Sunday 27 May, I gave my 41st "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.
In my 90 seconds of broadcast time, I explored one of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. You can read it below, along with some further discussion of the similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Religion often seems complicated. It can take years of study to become a priest, a rabbi or an imam. However, a great teacher can make complicated things seem simple.
The Bible tells us that a Pharisee once asked Jesus for the greatest commandment. Jesus replied that, above all else, you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second commandment was to love your neighbour as yourself.
That looks simple. But is it? Can you really love your neighbour as much as you love yourself?
I spend most of my time helping other people, for example by giving this broadcast. I regularly give up my time to talk to schoolchildren to motivate them to succeed in life.
However, I must confess. While I love all children, I love my nephews and nieces more. And I love my own children even more than I love my nephews and nieces.
Sometimes ordinary people become heroes by rising to the highest possible standard. During the Holocaust, many people in Europe sheltered Jewish children from the Nazis. They not only risked their own lives if they were caught, they also risked the lives of their spouses and their children. That is why the names of such people, the righteous amongst the nations, will be immortalised forever.
But I don’t meet that standard. How should I respond when God asks me to account for my life?
I might have to copy what Peppermint Patty in the Peanuts cartoon strip said to her teacher when she hadn’t done her homework. “I throw myself on the mercy of the court!”
What Jesus said is most often associated with Christianity. However it is wrong to consider this association as exclusive to Christianity.
The above message occurs in all four Gospels in the New Testament:
Matthew 22:35-40 Holman Christian Standard Bible
And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Mark 12:28-34 Holman Christian Standard Bible
One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which command is the most important of all?”
“This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. 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: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question Him any longer.
Luke 10:25-28 Expanded Bible
Then an expert on the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to get life forever [L inherit eternal life]?”
Jesus said, “What is written in the law? What do you read there [or How do you interpret it]?”
The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind [Deut. 6:5].” Also, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself [Lev. 19:18].”
Jesus said to him, “Your answer is right. Do this and you will live.”
John 13:30-36 New International Version - UK
As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.
‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’
In religious education classes, Christian children are often given the impression that Jesus's teaching about loving one another was radically new. The text in the Gospel of John may be the foundation for that viewpoint. However contending that Jesus's teaching was new is simply incorrect.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke make it clear that the commandments to love God and to love your neighbour were standard knowledge amongst the Jews.
The reason that both Jesus and the expert in Law agree with each other is that the two commandments summarising the law were standard Jewish teaching.
The Expanded Bible translation of Luke gives the citations which are reproduced below:
Deuteronomy 6:4-8 Holman Christian Standard Bible
Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.
In Hebrew, the first words of the above quotation, "Shema Yisra'el... (Hear, Israel)" begin the Shema Prayer, the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism, recited morning and night.
Leviticus 19:18 Complete Jewish Bible
Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai.
In Judaism, there is a very famous story, which can be found on the Chabad website:
One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!"
Accordingly it is no surprise that Jesus, who was Jewish, taught the two commandments, because they are integral to Judaism.
Love of God is the most fundamental teaching of Islam. To give just one citation:
Quran 2:165 Muhammad Asad translation
And yet there are people who choose to believe in beings that allegedly rival God, loving them as [only] God should be loved: whereas those who have attained to faith love God more than all else. If they who are bent on evildoing could but see - as see they will when they are made to suffer [on Resurrection Day] - that all might belongs to God alone, and that God is severe in [meting out] punishment!
Islam also teaches love of one's neighbour. A Quran citation is below:
Quran 3:36-37 Muhammad Asad translation
AND WORSHIP God [alone], and do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him.
And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour from among your own people, and the neighbour who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom you rightfully possess.
Verily, God does not love any of those who, full of self-conceit, act in a boastful manner; [nor] those who are niggardly, and bid others to be niggardly, and conceal whatever God has bestowed upon them out of His bounty; and so We have readied shameful suffering for all who thus deny the truth.
The "golden rule" as taught by Rabbi Hillel and Jesus can also be found in the sayings of Muhammad, as illustrated by the Hadith below.
Bukhari Volume 1 Book 2 Number 13
The Prophet said, "None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself."
It should be no surprise that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachings are consistent. That is a straightforward consequence of all three religions having the same basis, namely the worship of the one true God.
There are differences between the religions, but their commonality outweighs their differences. See my more detailed discussion in "Triangulating the Abrahamic Faiths."