As Christians, we’re often reminded of Jesus’ love for us, his willingness to forgive us, his desire to save us. But in thinking about this, there can be a tendency, at least for me, to think about “Jesus and me” as if he were my exclusive friend. It is true that Jesus does love me, but I am not the only one he loves: he is inclusive, not exclusive, in his love, and his inclusivity is broad.
As a person living in the world, I have had the privilege of meeting many human beings who are easy to like, but I too find some people annoying at times, some more than others. At one time I thought that Jesus loves people even when they are annoying only because because he has special divine tolerance, much greater than my limited human tolerance. No doubt there is some truth to this. But as I came to know Jesus better, I started to realize that Jesus is not immune to dislike: yes, he may love people, but it is not true that he always likes everything about them. Yet loving is not liking. The difference is this: to like someone is to enjoy being around them, to find them congenial, attractive, fun. But to love someone is to desire their good, to want them to thrive, to be happy, healthy, and holy. This is not incompatible with congeniality and fun, but it is not the same thing. It is completely possible to love someone you do not like. This should be a great comfort to us (it certainly is to me) because we know, whether or not we are always prepared to admit it, that we ourselves are not always likeable: we are not always congenial, attractive or fun. Jesus loves us anyway. We need to remember that this is true for others too: Jesus loves them anyway. This includes people we dislike: our rivals, even our enemies. Jesus may dislike the very same things about them that we dislike, or maybe not, but one thing we can be sure of: he loves them profoundly, loving them with the very same saving and redeeming love that he loves us.
This means that Jesus cares about how we treat others, because he loves those others. So if we treat others badly because we dislike them, even if those reasons for dislike are real reasons, even “good” reasons, then we are treating Jesus badly too, because we are mistreating those he loves. He will not be happy about this, nor will he be happy with us when we do it. He is quite clear about this. In the Gospel, Jesus describes how he will hold people accountable as doing to himself what they did to others [Matthew 25:31-46].
Yes, Jesus loves us and we love Jesus, but this is not in the least a situation where we are the preferred ones, privileged children who get to lord it over our less favored siblings. Jesus does not play favorites. Jesus loves others just as much as he loves us. If we love Jesus, then, we must love other people too. It is easy to love others when they are wonderful and likeable, but not so easy when they are annoying and dis-likeable. Yet Jesus loves even the annoying and dis-likeable. We should love them, not because they are particularly lovable in their own right, but because to love Jesus means to love those he loves. Pray for Jesus’ help to love people who are difficult to love: maybe he will help us see something lovable in them. Or maybe not. No matter. Love them anyway, because Jesus loves them.