Many years ago, my dog, Kody, and I stayed at my bestie’s house for a week while she was out of town. To pass the time, I rented a couple movies and at the end of the week, I stopped by the store to return the movies. I parked in the lot right in front of the return drop box, jumped out, tossed the movies into the box, and opened the door to get back in my car. Kody was so excited to see me, even though I had only been gone for 30 seconds, that he jumped across the front seat to greet me. When he did, his giant 80-pound paws hit the driver side door. When that happened my long door swung open and hit the brand new Mustang parked next to me. I got Kody safely back in the car, closed the door, and turned to survey the damage. It wasn’t just a ding…it was a dent! As I was standing there looking at the dent and trying to figure out what to do, the owner of the car and his girlfriend walked out of the store and saw me looking at the car…. and then they saw the car. Before I could explain or apologize the girl began yelling and cussing at me…calling me all kinds of names. She wept and carried on like someone had died. I tried to explain and apologize to the man. I mean, he had to be the rational one, right? He wasn’t. He demanded my license, and I handed it over. He saw my address and asked me why I was so far away from home. I explained the house-sitting thing to him and he replied, “Well, this was the most expensive job you’ll ever get.” I’m not even sure what that meant, but I knew it was intended to hurt. He refused to get the police or insurance company involved and we exchanged information and left. A few days later he called me. I answered and he had apparently been low key stalking me and found out I was a teacher…in a really tough school. He was calm and understanding and kind and he allowed me to explain what had happened the day I dented his car. Once he knew I was a teacher, and not some kind of monster who wanted to destroy his car, he was rational and treated me like a person. Prior to that, he had treated me like I had no worth, like I was disposable, like I didn’t matter as much as him. When he got a tiny piece of my backstory, his perspective changed and therefore the way he treated me changed.
There’s an African proverb in the book, Gracism, that says:
When I saw him from afar, I thought he was a monster.
When he got closer, I thought he was just an animal.
When he got closer, I recognized that he was a human.
When we were face to face, I realized that he was my brother.
In other words, it’s easy to dislike people from far away. When we don’t know anything about a person, it’s easy for us to be un-loving or to even hate a person. The closer we get to someone, the more we know about a person’s back story, the more our perspective shifts and we begin to really SEE them.
And here’s the thing, this has probably happened to most of us, like my situation in the parking lot, but I’m far less interested in that today. The truth is, we’ve all doneit to others! We all have. Think about your favorite reality show…American Idol…Queer Eye…Dancing with the stars. There’s always a contestant that gets highlighted as the underdog or the villain or the difficult one and we begin to hate that person right along with the rest of the viewers. Then at some point in the season, the producers give us backstory on that person. They tell us how they grew up…what trauma they’ve experienced…how hard they had to fight to climb out of their circumstances or environment and suddenly we go from hating that person to balling our eyes out and completely rooting for that same person. Ok, maybe the crying part is just me, but you get what I’m saying, right?
Let’s forget reality TV for a moment. We do this in our lives…in our everyday interactions. Can you think of someone right now? Someone you don’t care for…someone who is different…someone who lives a lifestyle you don’t understand…someone you don’t want to love because of his or her behavior toward you or toward others. How much do you know about that person? My guess is not much…you keep them at a distance and you don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been there, but when we get up close, face to face with someone’s story, we realize they are our brother/sister…we realize there are reasons for their behavior or lifestyle and it changes how weseethem…it changes how we treatthem…It changes how we lovethem.
And loving people, even the ones that have offended us…even the ones who have hurt us… even the ones we don’t understand…who are different from us…who live a lifestyle we may not agree with, is simply not an option.
This whole love people thing is a big deal to Jesus, so it better be a big deal to us!
Jesus said a watching world will know who we are…they will know we are different…they will know we love and follow Him by the way that we love people! Not just other Jesus followers… not just people that we like…not just people we understand…not just our family, a watching world will know that we are Jesus followers by the way we love ALL people.
Love God. Love people. It not an option, it’s a command. Loving God seems easy, but loving people… not so much. I believe that these two things are so tightly woven together that we just can’t separate them.
We cannot love God absolutely unless we love all people.
And we cannot love all people unless we see them the way Jesus sees them.
And we cannot see people the way that Jesus sees people, unless we THINK like Jesus thought.
When we think like Jesus thought, we will love like Jesus loved.
Philippians 2:5 tells us in regards to our relationships to
“Live with His (Jesus) attitude in your hearts”
It’s an attitude adjustment. Attitudes and actions cannot be inconsistent. It’s just not possible. When we change our attitude toward someone, our actions will always follow.
So what is Jesus’ attitude when it comes to loving ALL people?
In Luke 7, we find Jesus at a party. He is reclining at a table with His feet outstretched behind Him when a “sinful” woman shows up. This woman heard that Jesus was going to be at this party, so she rushed to the opportunity to be in His presence. When she found Jesus at the table, she began weeping and her tears rolled down her face and wet His feet. She wiped her tears with her hair and kissed His feet and poured her most valuable possession, perfume, on them. Everything that she did, was a sign of affection, of respect, of love.
Simon, the party host, watched this whole thing go down from across the table. He knows very little about this woman, and he says to himself, “If He were really a prophet, He wouldn’t be letting someone like ‘that’ touch Him.” Uhggg!
And then Jesus tells a simple story about a moneylender who forgave two debtors. One owed a small amount of money and the other owed a large amount of money. He ended the story with this question.
“Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered, “the one who was forgiven the larger debt”.
Jesus turns to face the woman, and He speaks to Simon who is now behind Him.
“Do you see this woman?"
This. Is. Powerful! This woman knew what every person in the room was thinking about her…she knew people were staring at her…she knew people were talking about her. She was vulnerable, and she was at the feet of God, weeping, and pouring out her affection and worship and Jesus turned toward herand looked into hereyes and reviewed with Simon all the ways that she had loved Him well while Simon had not even shown Him common courtesy. He was speaking to Simon, but the words were meant just as much for her! And then Jesus said that she loved greatly because she had been forgiven greatly.
Did you catch it? This woman knew the depth of her own sin. Her ability to love was deep and wide…her capacity to love Jesus and people was great because she recognized how much debt she had been forgiven!
Jesus goes on to say, “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
People who think they don’t have much to forgive, will love little. Simon!!! Wake up! You’re behaving like you’re better than this woman. Maybe if you got to know her a little, you’d see that she is a person …that there are good reasons she has done the things that she has done.
Either we realize that we have been forgiven much and we adjust our attitudes accordingly and our actions fall in line as we see people and love people greatly therefore loving God absolutely OR we sit in judgment of the way others live and interact with the world…we keep people at a distance…we believe the lie that we are somehow better than the next person… we choose not to ever see people, and love very little.
And make no mistake, when we love people very little, we love Jesus very little.