Have you ever met someone who claims to love God, but who has nothing good to say about other people? Someone who is constantly complaining and criticizing and making fun of others?
Yeah, me too. I know a lot of people like that. They go to church on a regular basis. They say their prayers every day and they read their Bibles. They profess to love and serve God, and yet they constantly say nasty and sarcastic things about everybody, either gossiping behind their backs or being rude right to their faces.
When Jesus was asked which commandment in the law is the greatest, He said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
So, Jesus said there is not one single commandment that is most important; there are two. We must love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. And, of course, by “neighbor,” Jesus did not mean just the people who live on our street, as if we could say, “Hey, wait a minute, you live across town! You’re not my neighbor. I don’t have to care about you. Go jump in a lake!”
By “neighbor,” Jesus meant all people, regardless of where they live, or their race, creed, or political affiliation. That’s a little more of a daunting task, isn’t it? Jesus said we need to love everybody.
Maybe Jesus will be satisfied if we love God and kind of tolerate our neighbor. Because if you haven’t noticed, people can be real jerks. There are a lot of folks walking around these days who are very unlovable. Jesus can’t really expect us to love all those creeps, can He?
Well, in St. John’s first epistle, he wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God—whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).
Oh brother, indeed! How do we do that? Well, it’s not easy. But there is an important concept in the Gospels, and here it is: It is possible to love people without necessarily liking them. The key is not that we have fond feeling for everyone, but that we remember every single person on earth was created in God’s image and is loved very much by God. What we have to do is sincerely wish the best for everyone. And in many cases, “the best” means that person needs to turn to God, repent, and change his or her selfish and hurtful behavior. But the biggest change occurs in our attitude toward them. Even if we don’t really like them, we can pray for them. That’s how we can love the unlovable, as Jesus commands.
So, getting back to my original question: have you ever met someone who claims to love God, but who has nothing good to say about other people? If so, then you may have met me.
If you struggle with this issue, as I do, let’s work together on it. Let’s try to love those people who annoy us the most by praying that God will shower them with blessings and change them. In the process, we’ll find that God changes us, too. And who knows, maybe all those people who call us jerks behind our backs will decide we’re not so bad after all.