Loving the Unlovable
I hit the red button in front of me. A light bulb lit up and a buzzzz sound rang out.
My scholastic bowl coach, Ms. Lemon, had just asked the last question of our practice match. The score was tied. And I knew the answer. The question: "Who wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea?"
Mrs. Lemon called on me as I started laughing so hard I couldn't get the name "Jules Verne" out.
"Time's up," she said. And then, the other team won.
As I was leaving practice, Ms. Lemon pulled me aside. "You lost that for your team," she said, her voice shaking. "And I know why. Jules Verne made you think of Vern didn't it?"
Everyone at my school knew Vern. He smelled. He wore big work boots and torn shirts every day. And he didn't seem too bright. When Jules Verne came to mind, I was laughing at the idea of Vern writing a book.
"Vern doesn't deserve to be treated that way," Ms. Lemon said. "What makes you think he's so unlovable that he doesn't deserve simple respect?"
I had no answer. Suddenly feeling hot and sweaty, I apologized to her and left. But one word stuck with me for days: unlovable. I kept thinking about all the people in my high school who did seem downright unlovable. There were strange outcasts like Vern. There were mean kids like Justin, the bully who always called me fat. And there were crabby, annoying people like those guys in my algebra study group who never agreed about anything. Clearly, I thought, all of these people are unlovable.
But as a Christian, I'm supposed to love them all.
Perhaps Jesus' toughest teaching is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12: 31, NIV). Sure, that seems easy enough—until you really think about what it means. He didn't say "like" them. He said "love" them. And you don't get to pick who your neighbor is. It's everyone—from Vern to Justin to your little brother who shampoos your hair while you sleep. (OK, maybe only my brother did that.)
Were Jesus' expectations too high? I mean, he never had to go to high school. If so, surely he'd know that it's not so easy to love everybody.
Well, that's a cool thing about Jesus. He wasn't just God on High shouting down orders. He experienced what we experience. When he told us to live a certain way, it was coming from a guy who'd been there. He lived on Earth—and probably knew his share of Verns and Justins. And he had little brothers.
However, Jesus understood two important truths:
1) Everyone is created in God's image. So if we are worthy of love, so is everyone else because of who made them. 2) Because of sin, we're all really unlovable. But Christ changed the rules by offering love, grace and forgiveness (Romans 5:8). If God can love us, surely we can love those around us.
But how do we do it?
Recently, I heard a pastor give a sermon about John 13. It changed how I view treating the hard-to-like people around me.