I can remember a time in college when I thought three stickers on my car would tell people most of what they needed to know about me: a decal for my school, my fraternity and my church. Those were my tribes and my primary forms of identity. They were all good tribes, good relationships. They helped make me who I am. But I don't think of myself that way anymore.
Even though I am a committed Christian and a priest in the Episcopal Church, I don't see that as my primary identity any more either. My most fundamental identity is as a human being, a member of the human race. All of us are God's beloved children. I am one with every other human being, and one with God. We humans are united in all of our diversity: our religious diversity, our racial diversity and our cultural diversity. We are one.
Part of why I find the doctrine of the Trinity so compelling is that it is essentially a claim that ultimate reality is unity in diversity.
The creation stories of the Bible tell us God created humanity in the image and likeness of God, unity in diversity. The prophets of Israel repeatedly reminded the people of their responsibilities toward others, especially the poor and vulnerable, the stranger and alien. Jesus repeatedly crossed contemporary human boundaries of clean/unclean, Jewish/Gentile, native/foreigner to offer his healing and compassion to all.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus expanded the definition of "neighbor" to include anyone in need, no exceptions. Jesus commanded his followers to "love your neighbor as yourself." The only people Jesus scolded were those who were so certain of their own rightness that they judged others and treated others with condescension. His whole life was a life of compassion and sacrifice for others.
In his cross, Jesus embraced all of the brokenness of the human condition. Jesus experienced the deprivation of human evil. He experienced human pain and torture. He experienced human death. Jesus responded only with loving acceptance, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing."
Christians claim that Jesus reveals God's nature: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). God's loving regard and forgiveness extends to all humanity, including even those who kill the innocent. Only that kind of love overcomes evil and death.
There is a broad and bright way of living that embraces all humanity in a spirit of love. Every person is my brother or sister. It is my job to see each person through the lens of love and to affirm our common humanity, especially when it is disguised beneath ugly or violent behavior.
The people who crucified Jesus thought they were doing the right thing. A friend of mine likes to say, "Behavior is always rational to the person performing the behavior." I've become convinced that nearly everyone is trying to do the best they can. When you consider the insight, resources, and emotional nourishment available to them, people generally are doing the best they can. Even when people do things I believe are wrong or bad, if I take into consideration that person's own experience, their level of understanding and conscious awareness; if I take into account their fears, suffering or their state of emotional nourishment, I can usually understand something of how they came to act as they did, as bad as it seems to me. If I can get to that understanding, I can usually nurture some empathy for them. I find some consolation and even some hope in that. Father, forgive us all. We don't know what we are doing.
It is damaging and essentially false whenever we divide humanity. Us/them, saved/lost, righteous/condemned: that's the Big Lie. We rationalize so much of our violence by dividing humanity and devaluing the other.
There are ways to set boundaries around damaging behaviors without demonizing the person who is behaving badly. I believe if we are going to contribute to the healing of a broken world, it can only happen through love and forgiveness, not through dividing and conquering. Jesus told us to love our enemies.
Commentary on 10/04/2016
Print Headline: Loving our enemies