In our Gospel today we read the prayer of Jesus the night before he died. It is the longest prayer in the Bible. He says, “Father, most Holy, protect them which You have given Me. I gave them Your word and the world has hated them for it. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to guard them from the evil one. As You have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
This prayer tells us something very important about Jesus. It tells us He was a misfit.
This may sound strange, even sacrilegious. We think of misfits as people who are emotionally unstable or socially retarded. They are suspicious of almost everybody, in their minds the world is out to get them.
Jesus was not like that: He had a healthy mind. His feelings were not easily hurt, He gave people the benefit of the doubt, and His social skills were without parallel. Yet the fact remains that He did not get along with everybody He met. He was not full of sweetness and light all of the time. If that was the case, how did He manage to get Himself crucified? Many people saw Him as strange, even dangerous.
Jesus firmly believed in the inherent value and worth of every person. This sounds innocent and harmless, but translated in His day and age, this could and did cause trouble.
Jesus lived at a time when the Land of Israel was controlled by Rome. They were occupied by an alien army and as you might guess, Romans were hated, as was anyone who cooperated with them. What does Jesus do? He heals the sick servant of a Roman Officer. And His instruction about loving enemies included, without question, these foreign invaders.
Tax collectors were even more hated than Romans. They were held in utter contempt, the lowest of the low. What does Jesus do? He befriended them, and made one of them His apostle, St. Matthew. The Law said you were not to get near a leper, rather stand at a distance. They were the living dead. They were to live outside the camp. What does Jesus do? He reaches out and touches a leper, and cures him.
Adultery was the worst sin a woman could commit, thought to undermine the whole social structure. We all know the story: a crowd drags a woman, throws her at the feet of Jesus and accuses her. They have an airtight case: whatever Jesus says, He will be in trouble. What does Jesus do? He writes in the sand. Then He looks up and says, “If you are without sin, cast the first stone. Does no one condemn you? Then I will not condemn You.”
There was another group that the people at the time of Jesus stayed away from, the Samaritans. The animosity was so bad that people would travel miles out of their way to avoid going through a Samaritan town. What does Jesus do? He walks through a Samaritan village; He speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well, and then goes back to their village to spend time with them. And He even tells a story called “The Good Samaritan.”
Jesus was a misfit because He never learned whom and how to hate. There are still people who are outsiders, those who are unacceptable in our culture and time. In some communities, it is race against race. In others, religion against religion, or the haves against the have-nots.
This prayer of Jesus is relevant for us today. He wants us to live in the world, but not to live like the world. We are to affirm the inherent worth and value of every person. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if there is any person, any group that I force to live outside of my camp. And if there is, what would Jesus do?