Loving the Unlovable
We know what Jesus’ love (the love which His followers are commanded to embrace) looks like because He clearly tells us in the Scriptures. This past Sunday at Mass we heard it from St. Luke’s Gospel, and today my meditation with the Gospel of Matthew led me to it again:
“You have heard the commandment: You shall love your neighbor but hate your enemy. My command to you is: love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. This will prove that you are true sons of your heavenly Father...If you only love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Do not tax collectors do as much? And if you greet your brothers only, what is so praiseworthy about that? Do not pagans do as much? In a word, you must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” -Gospel of Matthew Ch. 5
In Chapters 5-7 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus compares Old Testament morality with that of the law of the New Testament. In His preaching, it becomes clearly self-evident that the moral demands made of the followers of Jesus Christ are much more demanding than those of the Old Testament. The moral commands of Christ require much more of us than was ever required of the chosen people of Israel who lived before Christ. But, if there is one commandment that Christ raised to super-human heights, it is the commandment to love as He who is Real Love loves. Jesus clearly shows us by His words in the above Gospel, that He expects His followers to look, to behave, and to act in a way that is “holy”--that is--“set apart”. Christ shows us that His followers will be known for loving not just their neighbor like any good person would, but also, their enemy. Yes, you read that correctly. The followers of Jesus Christ are commanded--not just “encouraged” or “challenged” or “asked”, but commanded to love; and to love not just our neighbor, but also, our enemy.
We never seem to give a second thought to the fact that, in all the languages of the world including English, we speak of some people as being lovable and other people being unlovable. Obviously, lovable people are those we can love. Unlovable people are those who we seemingly cannot love. This, in one sentence, is the heart of Christian morality. We are told by the Man we believe to be the Key to the Heart of the Father and the one and only Way to abundant life, to love unlovable people. I will say that again. We are commanded by Jesus Christ to love unlovable people.
Who are unlovable people? Oh, that’s easy. Those who do not love us, those who are not kind to us, thoughtful of us; those who we disagree with, those who would prefer we not be a part of their lives; those who choose to see our conviction to seek first the Kingdom as unreasonable, oppressive, and anti-social; those who we find it difficult to forgive or perhaps who may find it difficult to forgive us. Those who would prefer to “lovingly” “protect” themselves from us, and thus choose not to be open to entering into relationship with us. Those whom we have wronged and who refuse to forgive us.
Who are unlovable people? Those who offend us. Those who speak unkindly to us and about us. Those who cut us out of their lives and treat us--even as we strive to love them heroically--with great suspicion, fear, and indifference. Who are unlovable people? All those people who, except for God becoming man and dying on the Cross and meriting for us the grace to do the humanly impossible, we would find it extremely difficult--if not impossible--to love. They are the unlovable people.
This command from Jesus, in one declarative sentence, is the essence of Christianity – loving the unlovable. Do not forget that this command, though difficult and perhaps in some ways seemingly impossible, is given by Truth Himself; the only Way to unending life, happiness, and peace; God who tells us that He has come so that we might have life, and have it ABUNDANTLY!
I pray that you hear Jesus repeatedly asking you: “If you only love those who love you, what merit is there in that?” Do not the “tax collectors and pagans” of our own day and age do as much?! It is easy and not at all surprising or inspiring that we would lay our lives down for people that we like; people that like us; people that see and respond to our love. But what is praiseworthy about that? Following Jesus begins with the decision to, like Him, make the decision each and every moment to lay our lives down in love for everyone--especially for those whom we sadly deem to be “unlovable.”
And this embracing of Real Love and His command is the one and only way by which we can become “Perfect; just as the Heavenly Father is perfect.”
Come Holy Spirit. Spirit of Truth, of Goodness, and of Mercy; Spirit of Unity and Healing; Spirit of Freedom and of Love, come and set us on fire with greater love for Jesus and for the Way to happiness which He proposes to us. Give us the grace, the strength, the wisdom, and the humility to embrace and unite Truth and Charity in our lives. Come and set us free from ourselves; from our own insecurities, wounds, fears, and sufferings, that we may have all that we need in order to love Jesus perfectly and follow Him completely. Help us to love those in our midst that we deem “unlovable”; especially those who have hurt us and who it is most difficult for us to see and to love as Jesus does.
Mary, Mother of the Victory of Love, pray for us!
Jesus, meek and humble of Heart; make our hearts like unto Thine.