There’s this idea that’s been rolling around in my mind that I should see Jesus in others; I can’t recall if it was in my recent readings, whether it was just some idea I had, or if it was from something I saw somewhere in my life. [The amount of information coming at me lately has been overwhelming.] I’m not opposed to the idea; it’s kind of a good thought and, truthfully, I probably do it myself from time to time. When I see Jesus in others, I’m probably treating them a lot better than I normally would: I’m probably nicer, gentler, more patient and understanding of others when I see them as Jesus, when I seem Jesus in them. It makes me a better person to others.
But there’s a flaw in this thinking, and it’s given me pause to think about the way I’m behaving towards others. I’m wondering if this way of thinking isn’t conditional…is the only reason I’m loving someone else is because I’m seeing Jesus in them? Am I actually loving the person, or am I loving someone else I’m imposing upon them?
I wonder this because I claim that I love, and I claim that I love a lot of people. But am I loving the person, or am I loving my idea of who that person is? Do I truly love my African-American neighbors for exactly who they are? Am I loving the people experiencing homelessness for who they are? Are my actions, words, thoughts and love for my LGBT+ brothers and sisters for them and who they are? Is my love for that person who really annoys me in class for who they are?
While it may seem like I’m splitting hairs here, I think it’s an important distinction to both acknowledge and change in my thinking. If I am loving the person of Jesus I see in others, I’m not loving the person in front of me. If I am treating that person lovingly – as I would Christ – what happens when I lose sight of Jesus, who I see in that person? Do I still love them or does my love, like my vision of Christ in them, fade away as well?
Certainly we are to treat others the way we would treat Jesus, but I don’t think we’re called to look past the personhood of others. I don’t think Jesus ever called for us to place him in a substitutionary role for how we treat others. I think we’re supposed to love the person for who they are, where they are, however they are. We’re supposed to love our neighbors and our enemies; we’re supposed to love those who are like us and those totally different from us; we’re supposed to love those we agree with and disagree with; we’re supposed to love regardless.
The key to this is the word ‘as’ – treat others as you would treat Christ. In its simplest definition, it means “to the same degree or amount” – treat others to the same degree or amount you would treat Christ. This tiny word holds so much weight! It maintains the personhood of the other; it doesn’t replace them with Christ, but encourages me to see both. This little, necessary word opens my eyes to the way I’ve been living. Have I been treating my brothers and sisters, my neighbors, and the strangers I come across in the same manner I would treat Christ? Am I acknowledging their personhood while still treating them as I would Christ?
This is not easy to think about, and honestly, even more so to put into action. May God guide my vision, my actions, and my thinking by allowing me to see both the person and the Christ. May we allow others to be who they are and love them unconditionally as they are.
much love. sheth.