In part three of our four-part series on the different set of rules Christians are called to live by, Rev. Pedro Pillot of Asbury UMC in Camden, NJ teaches that the golden rule is indeed the most difficult to abide by.
My name is Pedro Pillot. I’m the pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Camden, New Jersey.
God’s kingdom looks so different than our own world because it’s based on love. Jesus taught his students that of all the laws of Hebrew scripture, the two most important were to love God completely and to love your fellow human being. And it’s a kind of love that goes beyond all reason. It’s not the kind of love that comes naturally to most of us. As human beings, we have a tendency to repay others what they give us. If someone is nice to me, naturally I’ll be nice to them. If someone is mean to me, naturally I’ll be mean to them. But life isn’t really about being nice or not. You can be very nice in one way, and be completely wicked in another. It doesn’t matter how nicely you speak, if your words deny the validity of another human being. It doesn’t matter how much someone says, “I hate the sin, but not the sinner” if they use their mouth to deny that so-called sinner’s worth as a human being. Our instinct is to repeat that kind of evil, back at our attacker when they denigrate us. The same scripture passage that tells us that love is patient and love is kind, also tells us that love does not insist on its own way. When we way hurtful things to another, even if they are true or we believe them to be, knowing that it will not bring about change, but only bring more suffering, we’re not actually expressing love. What we’re doing is insisting upon our own way. The opposite of love.
Our instinct is to repeat that kind of evil back at our attacker when they denigrate us. But Jesus taught his students, “Love your enemies.” Those people who don’t, or can’t, or won’t love you back, love them. Jesus said, “Pray for those who persecute you.” Because in the Kingdom of God, we’re called to wish good upon those who wish evil for us, called to love those who love us, and those who don’t.
In the Kingdom of God, there is no room for halfway love, because God loves us completely. Just as we are, regardless of the good we might do, and despite the bad we find ourselves stuck in. God loves us. The creation story in Genesis, says that human beings are created in God’s image. Which means that something about each one of us reflects what God is like. When we look in the face of a person who has denigrated us, who has harmed us - we’re looking at a distorted image, that somewhere, beneath those layers of hatred, reflects God’s love. When I struggle to love hard-to-love people, I think about my grandmother. She was from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and she had a particular way of talking. Whenever I encounter another Puerto Rican grandma who pronounces things just like she did, I start to feel the love I have for my grandmother infusing that interaction with this other person. It’s an involuntary, reflex. So I look at that hard-to-love person, and I try to remind myself, that beneath whatever callous shell they wear, they’re made in God’s image just like I am. So deep down, they look something like me.
The love that serves as the basis of God’s Kingdom is not halfway love. It doesn’t have caveats and conditions. It is radical, universal love. Jesus constantly found himself in the company of people who were marginalized by their community. People who were marked by larger society as being worthless because of their ethnic origin, or an illness or disability, or the work they did to survive. When Jesus spoke to them, he paid no attention to the labels they carried, but instead he saw the spark of the divine shining through all of that, and simply loved.
In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King asked his colleagues “Was Jesus not an extremist for love?” Dr. King saw what many of his white contemporaries could not see at the time, that Jesus was operating under different rules than the world around him because he was an ideological extremist for the principle of love. In a world that is generous to the rich and hateful to the poor, a world that would have us pay back evil for evil with interest, the only ideology worth following is the ideology of Godly love, and it is the only ideology with the power to transform the world.