My pastor, when citing his main inspiration for handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day in Civic Center Park, likes to quote the scripture about “the least of these”. He says, “We’re just trying to love the unloveable.”
And the people who line up in the park each day at noon to get their sack lunches often seem unloveable, very much the least of these. They’re ex-convicts, ex-dealers, ex-junkies. Sometimes they’re current convicts, dealers, and junkies. They are the prostitutes, thieves, and people who run from the tax collector. It makes us feel good to be an example of love to these people who live in conditions it’s hard to imagine. We don’t know them or even see them all that regularly. We say here you go and they say thank you and maybe even God bless and we are pleased. Then we go home and they go wherever and we have loved the unloveable, or so they say.
I don’t believe someone is unloveable because they haven’t showered in a week or they rely on us for meals or they stabbed a guy back in the day. Anyway, they keep their distance and when they do come around they are polite, for the most part. You know who I do consider unloveable? Coworkers who manage to simultaneously possess a high degree of incompetence, laziness, and self-righteousness. The passive agressive roommate who says it’s harder to be rich than to live in poverty because rich people aren’t as motivated to work hard. The insurance company that tells me I should have my car that their driver totaled towed to the front of my house because they refuse to pay storage fees for the scraps of my car that managed to make it to the junkyard. The mother of the boy at my school who comes to school dirty and doesn’t have a coat to wear outside because his baby brother urinated on it and his mother is too strung out to wash it. My ex boyfriend who calmly tells me that his new girlfriend is the only one who has never pressured him into a relationship.
Jesus calls us to love the unloveable, but man, it’s hard. And that’s why we redefine who is “unloveable”, rather than actually pouring our time and efforts into loving the people who drive us crazy. We know the homeless men so little we don’t have enough information to hate them–so we love them by default. Maybe if we got to know them better, individually, we would learn of their selfishness or corruption or laziness, or hear their hurtful words. Who knows, they might be passive agressive, too, and leave us post-it notes that it is our turn to buy toilet paper because they bought it last time and DO NOT buy the off-brand either because it’s one-ply and therefore not as soft. For now, though, we don’t know them, and it looks good on paper for us to say we love them and show them we love them by giving them PB&Js. Yet, in extolling us to love the unloveable, Jesus asks us to work on ourselves to truly love the truly unloveable–those people who cause us annoyance, anger, pain, and sadness.
I think the way we are prone to interpreting the Bible is that we have it all figured out and it is an “instruction manual” on how to go out and show everyone how much you’ve got it all figured out. To me, the really lovely piece about loving the unloveable is not to show them how much we love them, but to go through the process, over and over again, day after day, of finding patience and empathy. I don’t really think Jesus wanted us to love the unloveable to make them feel better. I think he knew that it would make us better. It makes me happy to think Jesus was so spot-on about how things work and knew how to make us better people. I believe Jesus knew a lot more beauty and love would arise from people who have gone through the arduous journey of trying to love difficult people than from people who thought they were doing what he said because they interact with “outcasts.”
My mom told me recently that she not only loves me, she likes me. I’m grateful that Jesus did not ask us to like everyone, and I’m even more grateful that he wants us to love everyone, even the ones who seem “unloveable”. It’s good for me.