It is funny how easily we avoid some of the most important bits of the gospel. In John 13:31-34 Jesus commands his followers to love as he loves. Wonderful! We are to be loved, understood and forgiven – but how easily we forget that we must (yes, must) love, understand and forgive.
CS Lewis usefully made the point that if you try to love someone you don’t like, the best thing is to ask yourself what you would do if you did like them, and see if you can do that. Sadly, we are good at making it difficult. The linked passage from Acts 11:1-18 helps explain. Peter had to face up to great barriers in going to a Gentile (the centurion Cornelius), baptising the family, and staying there. He has some explaining to do to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem – and the issue will come back.
Not an issue for us without a background in Jewish faith? But it is. Every Church sets up barriers to belonging to the core group. Even when newcomers are welcomed at the door, there are so many things to learn – a new set of words, a unique style of music, strange activities, – we could go on. Not that we are nasty about it, or even that we understand what it is like for newcomers very often. But this is a strange way to love the hesitant, or even the needy and hurting. We need our Christian culture to guide us, and we need to sit lightly to it to love those outside the present group.
We’re stuck. We can’t say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t commanded us to love”, because we would lose so much that is wonderful. But to accept the command and try to practise it, is difficult!