I have a really hard time with bigots. With ultra right folks. With folks who preach hate under the cover of their ‘christianity.’ I have a really hard time with child abusers, with spousal abusers. I have a really hard time with habitual criminals and crooked cops. Animal abusers. With politicians who say one thing and do another. And the list goes on. And on. And on.
I have a hard time with those who profess to be my friends, but prove themselves otherwise. With those who say they love me, but do whatever they can to denigrate those whom I love and prove themselves to be the antithesis of loving.
And sometimes I have a hard time with people in general. In the musical “Scrooge” by Leslie Bricusse, Scrooge sings, “I Hate People:”
Scavengers and sycophants and flatterers and fools
Pharisees and parasites and hypocrites and ghouls
Calculating swindlers, prevaricating frauds
Perpetrating evil as they roam the earth in hordes
Feeding on their fellow men
Reaping rich rewards
Contaminating everything they see
Corrupting honest me like me
Humbug! Poppycock! Balderdash! Bah!
I hate people! I hate people!
People are despicable creatures
Loathesome inexplicable creatures
Good-for-nothing kickable creatures
I hate people! I abhor them!
Sadly, I think we all of us feel that way about people at times.
But then, there’s this little quote that springs to mind:
You will never look into the eyes of someone God does not love.
Now, doesn’t that just knock the wind out of my sails and punch me right in the gut. In spite of everything, God loves those folks that we have a hard time with. God loves those whom we really, really have a hard time with. God loves those whom (gasp!) who don’t love US. Pretty humbling, huh?
The Scriptures appointed for today drive that point home. In our first reading today (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48) we hear St. Peter teaching the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles are God’s people just as much as the Jewish ones. In our second reading, ( 1 Jn 4:7-10) St. John says to us “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” And in our Gospel reading for today, Jesus pulls no punches, spares no feelings, and takes no prisoners when he says, flat out: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Notice, not a suggestion. Not a subtle hint. A COMMANDMENT.
SO, all those folks that I have a really hard time with? Love ‘em anyway. All those folks who have a hard time with me? Love ‘em anyway. Jesus teaches us to “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:28).
And it’s HARD. Living our lives as Jesus would have us to do ain’t no picnic at times. Not when we really and truly strive to be like Christ.
So, what IS this love? St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13 that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Oops again. More often than I want to admit, I fail at this. I seem to forget all about that “love” that I’m supposed to be showing. I don’t think Jesus, Paul, or Peter, expected us to be all buddy-buddy, welcome-to-my-inner-circle, be-my-best-friend with everyone, especially those folks with whom we have such a hard time. But what Jesus expects of us is to love everyone with that same love God loves us. And I’m not talking about that “love the sinner, hate the sin” crap. That, more often than not, is just an excuse for bigotry. What I AM talking about is this: We are called, as Christians, to love. Period.
Notice, I said “love,” not “like. There is a vast difference in the two. But what does it mean to love others? All too often, I’m afraid, we confuse liking someone with loving them. In other words, we think loving someone is similar to liking them, only much stronger. And this isn’t necessarily wrong, as far as it goes; a husband should genuinely like his wife and enjoy being in her company.
Does this mean we can’t love someone who’s difficult to like? No, it doesn’t, not if we understand the kind of love God has for us. God loves us not because we’re perfect, or even likeable, because we aren’t. We fall far short of what He wants us to be, yet the Bible says He still loves us.
So, reckon wonder, what do we do???? How do we love those folks we can’t stand?
Remember how much Jesus loves you. Read through the stories of his crucifixion and regain that sense of awe at all he gave up to secure your freedom.
Confess the limitations of your own love. Jesus knew none of us would measure up. That’s why he sent his Spirit to pour out his love in our hearts (Romans 5.5).
Surrender the difficult relationship to him. Place the person’s negative responses to you in his hands. Ask God to heal any emotional scarring you have from this person and enable you to totally forgive them.
Ask him to show you how to manifest his love to them. You don’t have what it takes, but he does. Trust that his Spirit will give you the words to say in times of conflict, and that he will show you what actions you can do to demonstrate his love.
And above all else, and perhaps the hardest to do is to:
Choose love. When pain and frustrations with this person surface, you need to choose to depend on the Spirit’s power to bless and not curse, to sacrifice your time and energy and not just retreat for self-preservation.
Let us pray.
Father, I have to thank You for looking beyond my faults and for loving me unconditionally. Forgive me when I fail to love others in the same way. Give me eyes to see the needs of the difficult people in my life, and show me how to meet those needs in a way that pleases You. Help me to love as you love. Help me to keep uppermost in my mind that we are, all of, your children. Help me to choose love. Amen.