Recently a rather unfortunate side of my character was brought to my attention. In the course of daily life I dealt with someone who in human terms was extremely ‘ugly’. When I met this person for the first time I was aware of a feeling of revulsion and an intense desire not to make the effort to get to know this person any better. What made this discovery all the more distressing was that on further reflection I realised this was not a one off event. It has been a consistent pattern of behaviour that had until that moment not really surfaced in my consciousness. I realised that I've judged people my whole life. Certain people haven't been worth my time, while others have been. And in the final analysis, I have chosen my associations and friendships almost exclusively for selfish reasons - not for the benefit of others. In a new, fresh and utterly shocking way, I discovered how desperately selfish I am at my core.
Musing further on this, I realised that this is a natural yet poisonous way of relating to others that most of us develop early in life. We tend to shun the unlovely, give up on the difficult, and avoid the strange, all the while aiming to be ‘in’ with the socially acceptable, the beautiful, and those who generally make us feel good.
In fact many experts tell us that this is exactly what we should do. Recently in studying a sales manual, I was interested to find that it encouraged the reader to surround themselves with people of a positive outlook who were going somewhere in life, as this would help the reader also achieve success. On the flip side the reader was encouraged to avoid people who are negative or not going anywhere.
What warms my heart is the wonderful truth that God does not treat people like this. God does not ‘get’ anything out of a relationship with us. His desire to relate with us is not based on a need he has that we can fulfil; it is a relationship of total inequality. He gives and we receive. What can you give to the God who has everything? Despite the truth that God has nothing to gain from a friendship with us, he sent Jesus into the world to bring people back into relationship with him. And Jesus was not selective. Not only did he associate with the rich and socially acceptable, but he was more often seen with people that the socially acceptable would never associate with: down and out prostitutes, hated tax collectors, fishermen and people struck with the dreaded contagious disease of leprosy. God showed us through Jesus that whatever barriers were between us and him, he was willing to stoop down and sweep them away that we might know him.
One of the biggest barriers between humans and God is our natural state. We all rebel against him. We try to live our lives without reference to him. We have become enemies of God. But when Jesus came to earth he preached a radical message of forgiveness to God's enemies. He said "love your enemies and do good to them...and you will be sons of God because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." Jesus told his followers that they shouldn’t just love those who love them. He didn’t want them to develop a pattern of relationships based on self-interest. Rather he called for selflessness in love. This same selflessness is the kind of love God has for his enemies. And Jesus lived this selfless love out. As the true son of God, he loved his enemies. Dying on the cross he prayed for those who put him there saying "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing". Jesus death was a sacrificial death. His death on our behalf breaks down the barrier of enmity between us and God, and allows us to relate to God as a loved Father rather than an angry judge.
This truth spurs me on to want to be a true son of God who loves those who are not only my enemies, but those who I am not naturally interested in relating to; those of a different and difficult culture, those of a different sexual orientation, those who have few friends, those who are shunned by society....even those who are ugly. I'm sure that my epiphany will not make me a perfect follower of Jesus in this respect, but I do hope it will help me more fully mirror his unconditional love for people.