Posted on February 28th, 2017
It’s hard to love difficult people. And everywhere we go, we find them. At work. At school. On the road. Sitting behind you, kicking, talking, spilling their drink on you.
“A man’s enemies will be those of His own household,” Jesus says. He’s talking about people in our own families who go to war with us because our Christianity is causing problems. But we go to war over so much less, don’t we?
It’s hard to love difficult people. And people are difficult because they have difficulties. One person is sick, another has a disability, still another is frightened by something we cannot comprehend. It upsets our plans, disorients our days, disrupts our priorities. And this is all for the good, because our plans and priorities were centered on our own success, our own ideals, our own dreams. Our plans were not good for us, because the good they sought was a self-good. So God gives us other people to force us outside ourselves. For it is not good that the man should be alone.
Alone sat a man along the roadside (Gospel, Luke 18:31-43). He wasn’t alone, and yet he was. Surrounded by people, none were his friends. The blind man in the Gospel was a beggar. When he cried out for help, they silenced him. When he begged for mercy, they were enraged. “Be silent!”
How easily we condemn that crowd! But when a person needs help, do you step forward? Certainly you do when it is a friend, or a relative. But when the person is a difficult person – when he is annoying, when she is always negative, when it is going to really cost you something, where are you? You don’t love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the truth.
Here’s another hard truth: you are the difficult person. It’s hard to love difficult people, and it’s harder still to see the ways we are difficult. Our fears are rational, we suppose; our selfishness is justifiable, we imagine; there is little need to confess, for we rarely do anything wrong.
Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are we (Epistle, 1 Cor. 13:1-13). St. Paul says, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways”; have you? You are the difficult person.
Yet here is good news! When Jesus comes to the difficult person, He stops. Jesus silences the crowd that had been demanding silence. He pays attention to the beggar. He talks to him. He listens to him.
“What do you want Me to do for you?”
He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”
That’s one miracle: Jesus restores creation. That’s His work, mending what is broken in this death-ridden graveyard. Healing the blind man is one miracle. But here is another: “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” Moments earlier they were yelling at the man to be quiet. They were annoyed. The difficult man was getting in the way of their aspirations, their desire for a Christ in their own image. But Jesus stops to care for the difficult man, and everything changes. Not only for the man whose sight is recovered, but everything changes for the crowd as well. Their angry shouts become songs of praise.
They have encountered not the idealized love of fantasy and imagination, but the real love that goes into the difficult situation and bears with the suffering, the smells, the sadness.
“Love bears all things,” the holy Apostle teaches us this morning, and we see that love lived out in Jesus Himself. “For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
This is love bearing all things and enduring all things. Jesus loves the difficult people. Jesus dies for difficult people, even people as difficult as you and me.
And He’s not done with us difficult people. The blind beggar, having recovered His sight, becomes a follower of Jesus. It’s not a metaphor. The man goes where Jesus goes – and Jesus is journeying to His cross. Palm Sunday happens almost immediately after this. The cross is very near now.
The cross is near to you too. God has designed a cross for each of us. We don’t like it. That’s okay. Jesus didn’t like His. He begged the Father for another way.
But we get the cross designed for us, because this is how we are conformed to the image of Jesus. All is forgiven in the cross of Jesus. All is changed as you bear your own cross, and become as He is.
So you get difficult people to love, all around you. But the difficulty becomes easy as you realize this is exactly where God wants you to be. He who loves you teaches you to love. “Love is patient and kind…. Love bears all things … [love] endures all things.” That’s who Jesus is, and what He does for you. As we follow Him to His cross this holy Lent, we pray that He teaches us this same kind of love, and removes our blindness to His will.