There’s a quote by 20th century saint Dorothy Day that has been rattling around my head and heart this past week: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” I’m dumbfounded by the holiness of this wise, true statement, and it cuts me to the quick. When we claim that every person, every single person, is made in the image of God, and a beloved child of God, then our love for all people is profoundly connected to the sincerity of our love of God.
Our society is like a big, open wound right now, and all the pain and fear and division are not bringing out our best. When we talk with people who think differently than we do, it often feels like we’re competing to win a battle against enemies. We line up behind our positions and lob grenades, often from the depersonalized context of social media. But we must never forget our higher calling as followers of Jesus. He shows us that it is possible to stand for justice and dignity and mercy, while also working for peace and reconciliation. We need to show the world how to speak kindly and humbly with one another, how to engage in conversation rather than debate, how to love even the people who most frustrate and infuriate us. Because we can’t claim to love God very much when we’re detesting and reviling other people, and our prayers for people with whom we strongly disagree, even the people we would call “enemies,” must not become mental pep rallies for our own beliefs.
This is not to say that we should forsake our pursuit of the vision and virtues of the Kingdom of God. The gospel compels us to shine our light brightly on every instance when our society turns its back on others, perpetuates systems of poverty and injustice, neglects its responsibility to children and the aged, or pretends that we’ve already wiped our conscience clean from 400 years of slavery and segregation. Jesus was not passive when faced with the effects of evil and sin. Yet his efforts were always rooted in compassion and humility, and an awareness that God’s love and desire is for all people, that God wants to redeem and restore the whole world. Jesus understood that love for God is only as deep as our love for the people we love the least, which is why his weapon was the cross and his final utterance words of forgiveness.
Pray today, dear friends. Pray for our nation, for our new president, for all our unhappy divisions. Pray for our church, that we may show the world a better way. Pray that we may love one another fully and truly, because when we do that, we will finally know what it means to love God.