I think this commandment is often simply interpreted as am instruction to care for one another, but people tend to leave off the “as yourself” bit. I believe Jesus wanted people to care for themselves, and not just to treat others with kindness.
This commandment teaches us to strive for balance within and without, which I think is crucial if we are going to be sincere in our love for our neighbours. Otherwise, what we do for another is a chore or it’s done because we expect a reward. It must be done because it feels right, which is why the Golden Rule teaches that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated.
@ruby3881, I’m just not sure if many people realize that as many times as Jesus taught it, and as many times as it was mentioned in the old testament, that Jesus was being quite literal. When he said that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, he was saying exactly that. Only ‘neighbor’ was figurative, partly because of the meaning of the original Hebrew which didn’t translate well into English. It would probably be clearer if it had been translated to be that we must love all others as ourselves, which Jesus later basically explained in greater detail.
My understanding is that Jesus quoted the earlier Hebrew commandments when he taught this lesson, using the word רֵ֫עַ (rea) for “neighbour.” As is often the case, this word has several possible translations in English. But it is used throughout the OT, and is often translated as “neighbour.” (cf the Ten Commandments, for one)
I don’t think it’s so much a problem of the concept being figurative, as of Jesus’ understanding of “neighbour” being much broader than the traditional Jewish meaning. Is this what you’re talking about when you say the verse/translation is a little unclear? Yes, Jesus taught that all our fellow humans are “neighbours” – which was different from the OT understanding of that word.
In the 12th chapter of Mark, one of the teachers of religious law asked Jesus which commandment was most important.
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Yes, Jesus was quoting Leviticus, but He was also making a point that this was of supreme importance.
It was explained even better in Luke 10:25-37
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
I don’t think that there is much doubt that Jesus was speaking in a way that is all encompassing, rather like saying ‘brother and sister’ or ‘all people’, rather than what we’d think of as “neighbor” – one who lives next door.