Loving the Unlovable

I do not easily love every guest that comes to Manna House. There are a few, in fact, that I would be quite happy if they never came back. Most are easy to love, to welcome, to serve. Some are not. In other words, guests at Manna House are human, and so am I. We all have our rough edges; places where we rub one another the wrong way.

I love to love those that love me (and laugh at my jokes). Loving those folks is easy. Offering them hospitality is a snap. Jesus however, has a higher bar for being his disciples. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-47).

I struggle with this teaching of Jesus and ask for the grace, the loving presence of God in my life, so I might be able to love those who are not lovable. This gets a bit complicated sometimes. At Manna House, like elsewhere, the unlovable might be more than merely unpleasant, they might also do things that hurt others.

I think of a guest who flares up in anger and threatens to do violence to another guest for the smallest of bumps in a crowded house. I think of a guest who mocks other guests who are “different,” not meeting certain standards for sexuality or sanity and personal hygiene. How to love the guests who sometimes threaten the very practice of hospitality at Manna House?

Love does not mean accepting wrong behavior by another person. Did Jesus love King Herod who had John the Baptist killed? Yes. But Jesus also clearly rejected Herod’s execution of John. Did Jesus love Peter who denied him three times? Yes. But Jesus also clearly called Peter to repent. It is a mistaken notion of love to equate it with accepting abuse, injustice, or any wrongdoing.

So love sometimes involves confrontation, conflict, and challenging another person, all with the purpose of creating a loving (and just) community. This is how God loved King David when God sent the prophet Nathan to confront him about the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. This is how God loves each of us when we are called to account for our sin. In Ezekiel we read, “ Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

Correction for the sake of conversion and community is loving. Paul points to such love (and more) when he writes, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

So, I can ask a guest not to smoke on the front porch because the smoke blows into the house. I can tell a guest that his language is not acceptable because it degrades another guest. I can even ask a guest to leave when her behavior threatens the well-being of another guest. This can all be done in love, with kindness in the words used, without recourse to violence, with continuing respect for the guest being corrected.

At the same time, love requires that I treat the guests I find difficult to love with as much love and respect as I treat the guests who are easy to love. This is when I especially have to practice patience and kindness, and I have to leave behind arrogance and rudeness and insisting on my own way.

I fail at this kind of love on a regular basis. Trying to offer hospitality to a cantankerous or sullen or irritating guest is humbling. I have to face my own shortcomings in the practice of love. Maybe that is how God reminds me of how unlovable I am, how I have rough edges, how I fail to love. And maybe that is how God tells me of God’s love for me. God loves even the unloving me. Does not the Bible tell me so?

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