People enjoy being with their own kind. Beautiful people gravitate to beautiful people. Bright people like to be with bright people. The wealthy find others with wealth. Artists enjoy other artists. Like attracts like: it’s a fact of life.
But it not always a good fact of life. Especially if elitism forms and only the brightest and most beautiful are valued. Or when pecking orders disrupt friendships in a continuing reshuffle of who is the most able; or the brightest by a given measure; or the most beautiful for the day.
At worst it can be formalized as a religious caste system. Indian Dalits, for instance, know they will never be Brahmins no matter how much wealth or education they achieve: they’re always untouchable.
At school it may be the grade-point-average; or membership in an exclusive club or elevation to a team. We all know how it works—whether or not we were successful. Value is based on ranking, and rank always has its privileges.
In most cases status is earned. Outstanding athletes or scholars achieve a higher place on an exclusive team by displaying physical or cognitive skills. Yet in some cases a person’s standing only comes by birth into a high caste or into wealth. So it seems tragic when a person is born into poverty or when some are born with serious birth defects.
But let’s shift directions now. What binds Christians to each other—the “like attracts like”—in biblical terms? And we need mention the Bible here because many Christian communities may be closer to their non-Christian neighbors than to Jesus and his New Testament followers.
Jesus certainly catches our attention here. He didn’t climb the social ladders of his day: he was a true outsider. His education was minimal and mostly informal. He didn’t join any important clubs, religious denominations, or political parties. He even played a role in having a man born blind so that begging was the man’s only life option. And most of Jesus’ closest companions smelled like used fishnets. So what was there to like about Jesus?
Just this: he came to earth to save sinners. Even as God’s only Son. He came to find and heal the lame and the blind, rather than those who claimed they could walk and could see. He recruited fishermen and tax collectors to his ministry team rather than the stars of the academy. And even in the exception—in his calling Paul who studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel—Paul dismissed his academic period as so much dung in comparison to meeting and following Christ.
And that brings us to the ultimate “like” that bonds authentic Christians together: Jesus as the one who loves us. His personal attractiveness, depth of insight, and his self-giving is all beyond measure. He has unsearchable depths as a person and offers that depth to all who seek him and follow him.
So, once again, the Christian life is upside-down and we’re reminded of Christ’s warning in the face of 1st century materialism, that “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:17). Yet he abandoned this sort of critique among those who knew their status as sinners: the guilty and the shamed underside of society.
Instead he offered grace: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
So the “like” in us that attracts Jesus to us and us to Jesus is not found in any claims of our being good, but in the power of his love that captures us. He is active in meeting our needs and in extending his mercy. And we, with God’s love now poured out in our hearts by his Spirit, start to act like him in caring for others.
And it allows us to relax because we don’t need to compete any longer with all the social stars we know. Instead we get to love them if and when they have time for us. We get to be like Jesus.