“For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'” Galatians 5:14
“What is thy duty towards God?” asks the catechism, and then “what is thy duty towards thy neighbour?” Looking at our duty towards God, we read the conversation between a scribe and Jesus. When Jesus is asked, in Saint Mark Chapter 12 Verses 28-31 as to which is the greatest commandment, he quotes the words of Deuteronomy Chapter 6 Verses 4-5, words from a prayer that was used by the Jewish people twice a day, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. Then Jesus continues, in Verse 31, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these”.
“What is thy duty towards thy neighbour?” The answer in the catechism begins with the answer Jesus gave to the scribe, “My duty towards my Neighbour, is to love him as myself”. The answer is complete in itself – if we really loved others as we did ourselves, then the world would be a very different place.
The catechism expands upon that answer, “and to do to all men, as I would they should do unto me”. The words are spoken by Jesus in Saint Luke Chapter 6 Verse 31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and have become known in popular culture as the “Golden Rule”. Even among people who are not religious, Jesus’ words make sense: neighbourliness, friendship, love, are built up by our taking the initiative. The First Letter of John Chapter 4 Verse 19 says, “We love because he first loved us”. God’s love for us inspires our love; so our prayer should be that our love for our neighbour will inspire a similar love from them.
“What is thy duty towards thy neighbour?” asks the catechism, and the Commandments help to explain our duty. The first four deal with our duty towards God and the fifth commandment to the tenth commandment deal with our duty towards our neighbour. The catechism says I am “To love, honour, and succour my father and mother,” it is based on Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 12, which commands us, “Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”. In times when our society has become very fragmented, it is an important commandment to recover.
Respect for parents is to be matched by respect for authority. The catechism says our duty is, “To honour and obey all that are put in authority over me: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters”. It is teaching based on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans Chapter 13. In Verse 1 of that chapter Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”. Paul believed the imperial authorities represented God’s will; the Roman Empire had unpleasant features but it was a much better place to live than other places at the time and much better than the authorities that would take its place when it fell.
The catechism speaks of honour, obedience and submission to those in authority. It was an attitude that made many church members believe that they must simply accept whatever the authorities said or did. The catechism, however, does not say that we should disobey God and if we believe that the authorities are acting contrary to God’s will, then our duty is to obey God. In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 5 Verse 29, the disciples are in trouble for telling people about Jesus, Peter says to the high priest, “We must obey God rather than any human authority”. In matters like the abolition of slavery and opposition to anti-Semitism, Christians had to realize that the authorities were wrong and should be disobeyed.
The catechism says we are “To hurt nobody by word or deed”. It is a duty which should be something positive, hurt can be caused by neglect, by not bothering, as well as by anything we might say or do. In Genesis Chapter 4 Verse 9, we read, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘ do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?'” We are our brother’s keeper; we have a duty, even if we don’t like it.
The catechism teaches me that I am “To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart”. If we read Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 13, we find that the Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not murder” and we think that it has nothing to do with us. The catechism reminds us of the danger of malice and hatred; the First Letter of John Chapter 3 Verse 15 warns its readers, “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them”. It is hard teaching; the way to avoid such an accusation is to be true and just, as the Letter to the Ephesians Chapter 4 Verse 15 says, “speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”.
The Eighth Commandment, Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 15, tells us, “You shall not steal”. In the catechism it is expressed as, “To keep my hands from picking and stealing”. There is a danger in thinking of theft as simply picking up an object that does not belong to us and taking it away. Theft takes many forms. Theft is theft; we should no more think of giving incorrect information in our tax returns, or make claims to which we are not entitled, than we would think of taking money from the church collection plate, they are all done in the sight of God.
I am to keep “my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering.” Observing those words of the catechism is about observing the Ninth Commandment, Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”. Telling stories of which we are uncertain, speculating about how things might be, passing on tales we have heard, each of them are false witness. Jesus teaches, in Saint Matthew Chapter 5 Verse 37, that we are to speak the plain truth, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one”. Gossip comes from the evil one; there is a thought to make us think about what we say.
The Seventh Commandment, Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 14, instructs, “You shall not commit adultery”. The catechism goes further, it says I am “to keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity.” Saint Paul asks, in the First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 6 Verse 19, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” It is a challenging thought. whenever we misuse our body, in whatever way, we are misusing something that belongs to God and we will give account to him for it.
Completing the Ten Commandments, the catechism tells me I am “Not to covet nor desire other men’s goods.” It expresses the words of Exodus Chapter 20 Verse 17, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour”. It is wise advice coveting something makes an idol of it, makes it something that is a priority when God should be our priority. Coveting something leads to envy and envy leads to hatred and hatred leads to all kinds of wrong. Not to covet is a way to contentment.
The catechism’s definition of my duty towards my neighbour concludes by telling me I am “to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me”. The catechism is not saying we should grudgingly accept whatever happens, but should find contentment in our work and in our lives. Work is a good thing; it is something that is done for God. The Letter to the Colossians Chapter 3 Verse 23-24 says, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ”.
Doing everything for God, serving Christ in all we do, whatever it may be – remember whose we are and whom we serve and we will fulfil our duty to our neighbour.