Who do you not like? Seriously. Or let me phrase the question differently: Who do you not respect? Who can’t you stand being around? Who don’t you think is as good as you? Who has less to offer?
We all have those sorts of people in our lives — in varying degrees of course. It may be because of a simple clash of personalities or because of a person’s actions toward us. It may be because of a person’s affiliations or friends or vices or lifestyle. Or it might be because of a person’s race, economic class, religion or ethnicity or sexual orientation. Some people we really just want nothing to do with.
But pause to reflect on last week’s reading in sacred scripture: “My sheep hear my voice; ... No one can take them out of my hand.”
In the ancient world, you tended not to like anyone not within your tribe. It was pretty much the attitude of just about everybody. Anyone who wasn’t in your group or tribe or religion was seen with quite a bit of suspicion.
Others were sort of looked down upon, as being “less” or “inferior” or in some cases “evil.” The world was a rough and dangerous place, and knowing who was “in” and who was “out” was often a matter of survival.
But the gospel according to John tells us that our God is totally inclusive. This is not an accident. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and David and Solomon, is the God of all. He wasn’t one God among many. He created all. He cares for all. And he loves all —- no exceptions.
We deceive ourselves if we think that God is alive and at work in only a few — if we think that God’s true “sheep” are the people who are like us — people who think like us, act like us, vote like us, worship like us, and maybe even look like us.
The truth is that God’s grace is being offered everywhere, to everyone, from every corner of the earth and in every life situation and experience. And many who might not explicitly embrace and articulate exactly what we believe or think are doing God’s work as well or better than many of us, we who profess to love the Lord and strive to serve him.
It’s safe to say that all people of goodwill who strive to be kind and loving and generous and compassionate and forgiving are, in a very real sense, listening to God’s voice whether they know it or not.
Every person has something to offer. Everyone has God-given dignity that can never be forfeited. Every single person is capable of great good and great sin. Everyone is absolutely precious in God’s eyes. Not just a few. Not just people who say the right thing. Not just certain groups or certain faiths or people who profess certain ideologies or belief-systems.
God doesn’t expect us to “like” everyone. But who do we love? That’s the real question. And there is only one acceptable answer to that question.
Deacon Stuart Neslin is the parish administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.