We would all love to live in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but sometimes we find ourselves living in a community much like Jimmy Stewart’s character in Rear Window, isolated from those who live close to us by our walls and fences.
One character in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic says, “You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘neighbor!’ Neighbors like each other—speak to each other—care if anybody lives or dies. But none of you do!”
I don’t believe our neighborhoods are typically as bleak as this, but it can sometimes feel this way if we close ourselves off from the world outside our doors … especially when it comes to people we don’t like.
And so how do you and I love our neighbors even when they are not neighborly to us? What about the intolerable co-worker? Or the family member you haven’t spoken to in years? To answer these hard questions, we look to Scripture. And the best example for how to love unlovable people is found in the relationship we see between Jesus and his disciple/friend who betrayed him, Judas Iscariot.
Jesus & Judas
This biblical relationship demonstrates true hospitality as it shows Jesus practicing what he preached when he commanded his followers to “love your enemies.” Jesus wanted all of his disciples to share life with him, walk with him, and take part in his ministry. This is what gospel living is supposed to look like. But we need to remember this picture also included Judas.
Judas might be the most famous betrayer in history. Jesus knew he would betray him from the start, saying in John 6:70, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”
Jesus knew Judas. Just like he knows each of us. He knows our sin. He knows our weaknesses. He knows that even those who believe and follow him still struggle. And yet he still welcomes us in, just like he welcomed Judas.
It’s difficult to love those we know will abuse our love, and it’s difficult to love people who have betrayed us. All the same, Jesus calls us to love our enemies … even those who hate us. We have all been called to welcome one another just as the Lord has welcomed us. Remember, Jesus didn’t just “tolerate” Judas; he loved him.
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
How to Love Like Jesus
I’d like to point out a couple key takeaways here.
First, did you notice Jesus decided to wash his disciples’ feet after the devil had put it in Judas’ heart to betray him? Jesus knew Judas was going out to betray him, and he washed his feet anyway. Foot washing is something a servant did back then. The master of the house didn’t do it. But Jesus humbled himself to serve, and he served someone he knew would betray him.
When you meet people who seem unlovable, you need to remember Jesus loved Judas even though Judas was about to betray him. As much as I don’t want to admit it, all of us are like Judas. Just like each of his disciples, Jesus welcomes us in and loves us “while we were still sinners.”
Jesus’ washing of Judas’s feet didn’t mean Judas turned to the Lord. He was not a believer; he is called “a devil” a “son of destruction.” This points to another hard truth: sometimes you will love your neighbors with the love of Christ and still see no fruit.
We are called to love our neighbors, to be “radically ordinary” in our love for them, to welcome them into our lives, and to spend time with them. But they won’t always respond the way we want them to.
We must trust the Lord to use our openness, love, and hospitality to draw sinners to himself. Even if you never see the fruit, you are still called to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and let the Lord do the rest.
This leads me to one other thing I want to share from the passage above. It’s Jesus’ loving initiative that makes us clean. He humbled himself and washed the disciples’ feet. In the same way, he made us clean—not by washing our feet—but by dying on the cross for our sin. He gave a perfect life away to be with us forever. And today he walks with us as we learn what it means to follow him and love others the way he loves us.
That’s our calling as Christians—to welcome our neighbors with the kind of love that God has shown us. A love that welcomes sinners, a love that seeks the good of others, and a love that can change lives now and for eternity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” A former secular journalist, Charles has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He and his wife, Janet, have authored several books, including Missing Jesus. Charles’ latest book is Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus: The Real Story of God At Work.