I’m embarrassed to admit this to you, but I’ve got to tell someone, and it might as well by you. I sat in 13D because I thought 13E might remain vacant due to the size of the woman in 13F, giving me extra room for the long flight. Then, the unexpected happened. A young hipster woman (there are lots of them in Austin) walked down the aisle, stopped next to me and pointed to 13E. She wanted to sit there. I don’t know what kind of person I expected to take the “charity” case of sitting next to the woman in 13F—a nun perhaps?—but I would not have expected this young lady with a flowing white dress and several tattoos to be the one. Yet there she was, and I was suddenly feeling very small, especially when she sat in 13E and immediately began to engage the woman in cheerful, respectful conversation.
When Jesus told an expert in the law that the “greatest commandment” is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40), He was thinking of people like the woman in 13F. On that flight on that day, she was my neighbor, and I didn’t love her. But the young woman who sat between us did, and for that she was being obedient to God and doing what He says, whether or not she was aware of it.
Many Christ followers don’t take the commandment to love their neighbor all that seriously. Oh, we like to quote the verse. We know the story of the Good Samaritan. But when it comes to actually loving people, whether they are lying wounded in a ditch or sitting on an airplane, whether they hold views we despise or live in a way we don’t approve of, we love people selectively. The truth is that God wants us to love everybody. That doesn’t mean we need to agree with them or approve of what they are doing. Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on the “love your neighbor as yourself” command. He just wants us to love. Period.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit since my Southwest experience, and I’ve come up with some categories of people who may be especially difficult to love, at least for me. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Feel free to add categories or examples of your own.
People you disagree with or who disagree with you. How easy it is to dislike and ignore these people (and there are plenty of them). This is why there’s so much contention in the world. Disagreements breed disgust. Let’s not be this way.
People in need. Perhaps you sympathize with this group and maybe give to organizations that help the needy, but do you really love them? The apostle James defines “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless” this way: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). It’s impossible to look after someone if you don’t love them.
Your enemies. Jesus set the bar very high when He was on the cross, staring at his executioners and the people who were mocking him, and said, “Father forgive them.” Jesus loved His enemies, and He expects us to do the same thing.
People who have a different sexual orientation. This is a big one, and it may be the most important category in our current cultural climate. And it’s not just a matter of “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Regardless of your view here, you need to show genuine love, if for no other reason than to build a bridge rather than a wall.
People who don’t love in or believe in God. It’s easy for a Christian to dislike atheists, but it’s absolutely the wrong attitude. As Rick Warren once said, the only people you are ever going to win to Christ are you friends, so make friends of everyone you can, especially Atheists. You may be surprised at the doors you open.