Loving Jesus is the easy part. Loving each other: that’s the hard part. That’s because Jesus doesn’t cut you off on the Interstate or beat you into the last parking space. Jesus doesn’t lose the remote or snore. He doesn’t borrow money and never pay it back. He doesn’t have bad breath and really, really need a bath. He’s not addicted. He’s not handicapped. He’s not an eyesore sleeping at the bus station. He’s not drooling or incontinent. In short, Jesus doesn’t annoy us; he doesn’t repulse us. He doesn’t intrude on our sense of propriety.
No matter how hard we try to make Jesus a living presence in our lives, he still dwells largely in the realm of the spirit. No matter how firm our faith, he remains to some extent a tabula rasa… a blank, ephemeral canvas for our hopes and dreams.
Those canvases that have been filled in by masters over the years usually radiate glory. The Jesus we meet in song and scripture, in art and literature is a paradigm of love and beauty. So, what’s not to love? He doesn’t litter the landscape of our lives with habits we hate and sights and smells we despise. In contrast to the image of a loving, loveable Jesus… reality rears its ugliness in the form of people we struggle to tolerate, much less love.
But toleration is not an option. Jesus commands us in this week’s gospel: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you…” With Jesus, “love” is always the operative word. He doesn’t specify that we love only the sweet-smelling and considerate, the virtuous and attractive, the sound of mind and body. Neither is his commandment restricted to the disciples or just the Chosen People. Jesus commands us to love all of God’s children, just as he loves us.
There’s no wiggle room here. This is not a suggestion or a helpful hint. It is Christ’s commandment. And nobody said it was going to be easy. Some people are harder to love than others. Start with those discarded as life’s “losers,” those contemptuously labeled as: “the drunks, the junkies, the tramps, and the crazies.” Jesus knows and loves every one of them. He took their sins to the cross, right along with our pride and contempt for these, our de-humanized brothers and sisters.
It is humbling to consider what pained Christ the most, their sins or ours.
Think of the worst day you have ever had. A day that you gave in to pride, or greed, or lust. Think of a day you betrayed family and friends. Think of a day you want to forget… a day you hope nobody ever learns about. Then imagine a life proudly devoid of all those hot sins of commission… but completely corrupted by cold sins of selfish indifference That’s what it means to ration your love… to deny it to those in need… to turn your back on Christ’s commandment to love the least of our sisters and brothers.
Just as Jesus offers us no choice but to love, he clearly shows us The Way of Love. To follow his commandment, we have to practice loving the way that he loves. First, give any discomfort or reticence you have to the Father. Then, no matter how dim or obscure, respect the divine spark in everyone you meet. Try very hard to look past your prejudices and society’s degrading labels. Try understanding the pathology and pain that produce obnoxious, off-putting behaviors. Then don’t be put off by them.
Keep searching ‘til you recognize the image of God that resides in all of us. Work at it. Pray for it. And always be kind; be respectful; be helpful; be forgiving. Remember every one of us is a beloved child of God, here for one reason. And that reason is to preserve and project his love, so that: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Our charge is simple: Witness Christ’s love in the world, as if he had left only yesterday and will be returning tomorrow. Til then, his love is in our care. We must live it and share it. Seen through his eyes, the hard part of love gets a lot easier.
Alleluia! He is risen.