A young woman named Jill had been dating her boyfriend Tom for several months, and they had become very close; in fact, the two of them were seriously discussing marriage, and even considered themselves engaged to be engaged. There was one hitch, however: Jill hadn’t yet met Tom’s parents. They’d been putting this off, for Tom had warned Jill that his mom and dad tended to be set in their ways, judgmental, and suspicious of new people. Finally this meeting couldn’t be postponed any longer, so Tom arranged for his girlfriend to come over to his parents’ home for dinner and meet the family. When Tom arrived at her apartment to pick her up, Jill noticed her black shoes looked a bit dingy, and because it was so important that she make a good impression, she grabbed a paper towel and quickly wiped them off—not realizing it was the same paper towel she had used earlier that day at breakfast to blot or dry off her bacon. When she and Tom arrived at his parents’ home, they were greeted by Tom’s mom and dad and their spoiled, cranky poodle, named Cleo. After sniffing the bacon grease on Jill’s shoes, the dog happily followed her around all evening. As the young people were about to leave a few hours later, Tom’s mother said to Jill—with her husband silently nodding his agreement— “Dear, Cleo really likes you, and she is an excellent judge of character, so we would be delighted to welcome you into our family” (May, The Story File, p. 2). Sometimes we human beings can make important decisions regarding other people on very flimsy or mistaken reasons; if these lead us to like or accept someone we might otherwise reject, that’s good—but if our quirks and prejudices cause us to reject someone God has sent to us, that’s very bad. Rather than relying on our own hit-or-miss feelings and intuitions, Jesus calls us to a higher standard: namely, to look upon everyone as a potential child of God, and thus a person of importance.
Throughout the era of the Old Testament, the Jewish people had a very strong sense of unity and self-identity. This was a good and necessary survival technique, considering that their nation was usually small and weak in comparison to its neighbors; however, their ongoing awareness that they were God’s chosen people did tend to make them look down upon foreigners, considering them hopelessly unclean and having no chance of redemption. The Israelites forgot that, while they were God’s chosen people, He had chosen them not only for their own benefit, but to be a source of His light and truth for all nations. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (56:1, 6-7), the Lord announces that He will accept prayers and sacrifices from people of any race or nation who wish to love Him and serve Him; His justice and salvation will be revealed to all who are willing to receive His gifts in faith. This salvation, of course, comes through Jesus Christ. In his Letter to the Romans (11:13-15, 29-32), St. Paul reflects on the unfortunate fact that the majority of his fellow Jews have not accepted Christ as their Messiah. Their refusal to cooperate with God’s plan, he says, has given the Gentiles the opportunity to experience first-hand the Lord’s grace and mercy. Paul holds out the hope that this will arouse jealousy among the Jews, prompting them to desire and accept the gift of salvation, too—for as he says, it is God’s desire to be able to show mercy to everyone. In the Gospel of Matthew (15:21-28), Jesus was seemingly testing the faith of a foreign woman who was begging for His help on behalf of her daughter. When He seemed to deny her request, she responded in a way which showed her belief that God’s blessings and love are intended for everyone. Jesus was delighted with her faith, and happily answered her prayer.
St. Therese of Lisieux once wrote, “There’ll be a lot of surprises at the Last Judgment when we shall be able to see what really happened inside people’s souls. . . .” It’s entirely possible that some people we admire or look up to are actually hypocrites and terrible sinners in God’s eyes, while others we take for granted or even look upon with disdain have a deep but hidden spirituality that’s very pleasing to the Lord. St. Francis de Sales once noted that because God’s grace is great enough to transform the life of even a hardened sinner in a single instant, our judgments about another person’s apparent lack of holiness—even if accurate—can quickly become outdated; moreover, as Mother Teresa once noted, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” That’s what the Lord expects of us—that we love everyone we encounter: young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Americans and foreigners, attractive and unattractive, friendly and rude, likeable and obnoxious, churchgoers and non-churchgoers, and those who are like us and those who are quite different from us. In practical terms, loving them means three things in particular. First of all, we must show respect to everyone, treating others as we wish to be treated, helping them when needed, and disagreeing with them or correcting them—when necessary—in a gentle and caring way. We’re not expected to like everyone we meet, but we are expected to place Christian charity ahead of our personal feelings. Secondly, we must forgive others who offend us, even if they mock our moral and religious values, even if they don’t seem to want or deserve our forgiveness, and even if we’ll never see them or even think about them again. If they truly need to be punished for their sins, God will take care of that; besides, we’ll only receive mercy ourselves in the same degree we’re willing to share it. Thirdly, we have to pray for others, especially those we dislike or consider suspicious or find annoying. Criticizing them, judging them, or gossipping about them won’t help them change or improve as persons, but our prayers might— and it’s certain that this type of humble and loving prayer will help us grow in grace.
Jesus tells us that we’re not supposed to have an “us versus them” mentality, for through His gift of redemption, everyone is given the chance to be part of God’s family. If we go along with the mistaken ways of this world, we’ll be passing judgments on everyone—and more often than not, our judgments will turn out to be wrong, foolish, and perhaps even harmful. Our Lord calls us to rise above this shortsighted approach and instead base all our decisions in the light of His Gospel. If we do this, then—as He did for the Canaanite woman—He will joyfully praise our faith and lovingly give us His blessing.