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  • Irrespective of whether you consider Jesus a popular itinerant preacher or the Son of God,

  • there’s a very odd thing about his views on love.

  • He not only spoke a great deal about love:

  • he went on to advocate that we should love some highly surprising people.

  • At one point, – described in chapter 7 of Luke’s GospelJesus goes to a dinner party and a local prostitute turns up

  • much to the disgust of the hosts.

  • But Jesus is friendly and sweet and defends her against everyone else’s criticism.

  • In a way that shocks the other guests, he insists that, at heart, she is a very good person.

  • There’s another story (in Matthew, chapter 8) where Jesus is approached by a man with leprosy.

  • He’s in a disgusting state.

  • But Jesus isn’t shocked, reaches out his hand and touches the man.

  • Despite the horrendous appearance, here is someone (in Jesus’s eyes) entirely deserving of closeness and kindness.

  • In a similar vein, at other times, Jesus conspicuously argues that tax collectors, thieves and adulterers

  • are never to be thought of as outside the circle of love.

  • Many centuries after his death,

  • the foremost medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas defined what Jesus was getting at in this way of talking about love:

  • He wrote "the person who truly understands love could love anyone."

  • In other words: true love isn’t specific in its target;

  • it doesn’t fixate on particular qualities,

  • it's open to all of humanity,

  • even (and in a way especially) its less appealing examples.

  • Today, this can sound like a deeply strange notion of what love is,

  • for our background ideas about love tend to be closely tied to a dramatic experience:

  • that of falling in love,

  • that is, finding one, very specific person immensely attractive, exciting and free of any failings or drawbacks.

  • Love is, we feel, a response to an overt perfection of another person.

  • Yetvia some admittedly extreme examples – a very important aspect of love is being pushed to the fore in Jesusvision.

  • And we don’t have to be Christian (that is, we don’t have to believe there’s an afterlife or that Jesus was born to a virgin) to benefit from it.

  • At the heart of this kind of love is an effort to see beyond the outwardly unappealing surface of another human

  • in search of the tender, interesting, scared and vulnerable person inside.

  • What we know as theworkof love

  • is the emotional, imaginative labour that’s required to peer behind an off-putting facade.

  • Our minds tend fiercely to resist such a move.

  • They follow well worn grooves that feel familiar and justified.

  • For instance, if someone hurt us we naturally see them as horrible.

  • The thought they might themselves be hurting inside feels weird.

  • If a person looks odd, we find it extremely difficult to recognise there might well be many touching things about them deep down.

  • If unpleasant events happen in someone’s life

  • if they keep losing their job or acquire a habit of drinking too much or even develop cancer

  • were somehow tempted to hold them responsible for their misfortunes.

  • It takes a deliberate, taxing effort of the mind to move ourselves off these deeply established responses.

  • To do so might mean taking an unappealing-looking person and trying to imagine them as a young a child,

  • unselfconsciously playing on their bedroom floor.

  • We might try to picture their mother, not long after their birth,

  • holding them in her arms, overcome by passionate love for this new little life.

  • Or perhaps, drunk and passed out, ignoring their desperate cries.

  • We might see a furious person in a restaurant

  • violently complaining that the tomato sauce is on the wrong place on their plate

  • but rather than condemn and feel superior, we might try to construct a story of how this individual had come to be so impossible,

  • and how powerless things feel in a world where something

  • (and obviously not what they're ostensibly complaining about)

  • has frustrated them to the core.

  • The more energy we expend in thinking like this, the more we stand to discover a very surprising truth:

  • that we could potentially see the loveable sides of pretty much anyone.

  • That doesn’t mean we should give up all criteria when searching for a partner.

  • It’s a way of saying that the nicest person will eventually require us to look at them with imagination

  • as we try to negotiate around some of their gravely dispiriting sides.

  • And, of course, the traffic won’t ever be all just one way.

  • We too are deeply challenging to be around

  • and therefore stand in need of a constantly imaginative,

  • tender gaze to rescue us from being dismissed as merely another everyday monsteror leper.

Irrespective of whether you consider Jesus a popular itinerant preacher or the Son of God,

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Why We Could Love Anyone

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    Kristi Yang posted on 2017/01/09
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