‘Love thy neighbour, as long as they’re perfect…’

Erm, this little guy’s not actually real you know!

Did Jesus really say that? No, of course not. But too often we have a similar attitude to the one this phrase expresses, only ‘loving’ the people it’s easy to love and forgetting about everyone else. Most people who’ve read ‘A Christmas Carol’ can easily sympathise with Tiny Tim, the epitome of innocence and selflessness, but when it comes to Ignorance and Want, the two scrawny, animalistic children neglected by society, it’s a completely different story. After briefly revealing them to the reader, the novel anxiously conceals them under the Spirit of Christmas Present’s cloak, and while Scrooge’s transformation from miserliness to benevolence and Tiny Tim’s eventual survival provide an incredibly heart-warming conclusion to the narrative, the real problem – the abject poverty suffered by the marginalised members of society – remains unsolved, even unacknowledged: forgotten amidst the jubilant yuletide celebrations, a happy ending which is, in a sense, illusory.

This scenario illustrates how it’s naturally harder for us to love certain people. However, Jesus commanded us to love everyone, whether they’re atheist, gay, homeless, a criminal, or just that guy you find really annoying. The command to ‘love your neighbour’ has no strings attached, no conditions, no room for interpretation or negotiation – it’s as clear-cut as it gets.

While it’s a simple concept, though, it’s hard to put into practice, and can easily seem unrealistic. However, Jesus showed us how it should be done. He didn’t ignore the people society rejected; he went to them first because they needed Him most. The story of the woman with the alabaster jar in Luke 7:36-50 is a great example of this: while its most obvious message is that we should give everything we have to serve Jesus as the woman does, holding nothing back for ourselves, it’s hugely significant that Jesus doesn’t just walk off and ignore her. He was surrounded by Pharisees, hypocritical religious leaders who He knew would condemn Him after seeing Him associating with such a ‘sinful’ woman, let alone embracing her. However, He wasn’t interested in making Himself look good: He put His own reputation on the line to show her just how much He cared for her.

Later on in Jesus’s life, He did the same thing for us too. Even though we sin, we mess up and we let Him down sometimes, He sacrificed Himself to pay the price we should have paid. ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’, says 1 John 4:17. And what better way to tell someone about this amazing love God’s shown to us by showing them that we love them too, that we genuinely care about them. Matthew 25:40 tells us that doing good things for others should reflect our love for Jesus. In His words, ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’, so by helping and loving those who society has rejected – the real-life ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ – not only are we showing them how much Jesus loves them, we’re showing Jesus how much we love Him too.

We should be patient, caring and compassionate to everyone, then, just like Jesus has been with us. Instead of getting carried away judging someone because of their sexuality, their background, their social status, or their beliefs, we should forget all that for a bit, accept them as they are, and show them we care. Accepting them as a person doesn’t mean you’re accepting their sin, by the way. Having said that, what right do I have to judge them anyway? Yeah they might have sinned big-time, but I sin every day, as we all do: as Jesus said in John 8:7, we have no right to judge others unless we’re perfect ourselves, which, of course, we’re not. We should leave the judging to God and instead try to follow Jesus’s example: loving each and every person we meet, whatever their circumstances.

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