I recently heard someone describe Jesus as the “humiliated savior.” I quickly thought about how, as recorded in the Bible, Jesus would share space with the Pharisees. He did this, I assume, knowing full well that the intention of their line of questioning was merely to catch him in some “gotcha moment” and have reason to charge him. Yet he listened to their questions and proclamations. He listened to them. And after listening to them, he would give them a meaningful response.
If Jesus knew that these assholes were going to continue to try and trip him up, why did he bother responding at all? Why didn’t he just focus all his time and attention on solely the oppressed people? The “sinners” as they were called. Why did he meet everyone with an open heart and listen to them?
My mind comes back to January 8, 2021. I have read blog after blog, opinion article after another, all from people so overwhelmed with confusion and anger, demanding to know why there are so many people that follow Trump or support the acts to storm the Capitol. Nobody seems to understand why those people continue to do those things. They are simply “at a loss.”
The first question that comes to mind when I see people self-righteously pose this question—because let us be honest here, they have already decided that they are on an opposing side of those people and by doing so, they have elevated themselves as moral and just. The question is this: Have you actually sat down and had a verbal conversation with one of those people? Because if you haven’t, ever, you will never understand, you will never get the answers to the questions you ask. Unless you have had a conversation with someone, shared space with them, and actually listened to their words, you’ll know why. But I wonder, if even you knew the why, would you really reflect on it? Could you accept it? Would that satisfy you? Or would you find a way to reduce what they have to say because it conflicts with the stance you had previously decided was the right one before you even heard what they had to say?
I notice a lot of people do this. They ask all these questions, as though they are meaningfully and empathetically trying to understand their hearts. But as soon as an exchange begins, from what I have seen on social media at least, the ad hominem comes in faster than the defense mechanisms, and both demonstrate an obvious failure to “listen” (or comprehend and pause to process in text exchanges) fully and with intention. When it comes to what’s shown on the mega-media, heated exchanges make for better ratings than civilized conversations and a sharing of views and lived experiences. We don’t really have many models of authentic and connected conversations available to us. So, we basically repeat the rhetoric without putting any thought into it. And that means we are being more facetious than anything when we say things like, “I am just trying to understand this brainwashing.” Or something to that effect. It’s already oozing with bias and presumption.
The Exception to the Rule
Why did Jesus even bother listening to the Pharisees? Because there is always an exception to the rule. And when you know there is space for an exception, you won’t have to choose the exclusion. And Jesus was the dude that was all-inclusive, remember? Meaning, he didn’t exclude the Pharisees nor the rich nor the tax collectors nor the Romans, nor the Sadducees, etc. He shared space with everyone. He listened to everyone, intentionally.
Of course, the Gospels reflect that Jesus wasn’t a head-nodder or Mr. Agreeability. If he took issue with what was shared, he found a different way to confront the conflicting ideas. That’s what I interpret anyway. The point is, he at the very least, allowed space for the conversation to take place. Whether or not the other guy was listening with an open heart is irrelevant.
If we want to understand a view, if we want to understand the actions of others, we really do have to ask them ourselves and be willing to hear where they are coming from, without judgment. Otherwise, yeah, you’ll remain perplexed and baffled and astounded and so confused by that which you aren’t willing to try to understand.
That’s the dilemma. We say we want to understand, but then we find every way to resist the information we are being given because we already judged the person before the conversation started. We must stop doing that. I wrote earlier about how my friend attended the rally in D.C. this week. I was just as baffled and astounded by his interest in it. Totally “at a loss.” And when I set aside my ego, when I was willing to let go of some idea of “being right” or finding a way to prove his view is “wrong,” I was able to really hear him. I do not have to agree with him in order to understand him.
I want you to read that again: Understanding is not the same as agreement.
Maybe if we stop tripping over that fallacy, we can really hear someone. Then we don’t get tangled in the same unconscious acts of listening simply to respond or defend or condemn. We listen to understand. And I’ll continue to say this, but once we understand, we don’t have to judge. And wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we let go of the desire to judge?
Jesus had the authority to judge the world and instead, he said “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47, NIV) A “humiliated savior” was willing to patronize every Pharisee with a conversation because he knew that, even if most of the Pharisees would reject his words, there was always an exception. It must have been humiliating for Jesus to continue to offer this space and this possibility in light of every rejection and condemnation he received from so many Pharisees. And while I realize that the ultimate humiliation is witnessed in his crucifixion, I imagine it’s just as humiliating to be so hopeful that your words of love will transform another and it doesn’t. But I don’t recall Jesus harboring over that kind of rejection, do you?
Instead, he shared space, and those who wanted to take what he had to say as impactful, did so. Those who chose to reject his words and further condemn him and attack him did so. It was of no concern to Jesus what they did after he granted them that shared space.
Herein lies a potential solution to how we “deal with” all these people we don’t understand. We have a choice, first of all. We choose to invite them into a conversation. If we really want to understand another layer of humanity that we don’t fully comprehend, we must confront it this way. Most importantly is that we open our hearts and our minds to this person. We let them tell us where they are coming from. Everyone has a story that leads to the chapter they are at in life now. If we aren’t willing to at least listen to an ultra-condensed Cliff’s Notes version of the story to catch us up to their present political positions, then why bother saying you want to understand at all?
See, that’s the thing, we are so impatient in our desire to judge that we won’t give time to understanding. It’s quicker and more effective to toss out a label. Judging is quick, understanding takes a bit to process.
If in our engagement, our words are not received, if our exchange doesn’t bring about anything lucrative in the Spirit of love, then wash your hands of it and move on. Say your piece/peace, and be done. Like Jesus. But you must at least engage what you don’t understand, or you’ll be beholden to the judgment you opt to cling to. I perceive that’s what Jesus did. He listened, perhaps waiting to see if he could be surprised and learn something? And then he responded. He listened first. Are we listening to first? He listened first, and then he responded, and he asked questions, and there was a back and forth. Yes, there were disagreements. And Jesus got the better of them. But at least he tried to hear them, right? Are we doing that?
I am not suggesting that if you sit down with a Proud Boy, Antifa member, or Trump supporter that you’re going to change anybody’s mind. But you might be surprised. You might inspire someone to question your views. In your attempt to understand another, someone may end up wanting to understand you in return. That’s when you can share your views and use your lens of love to reveal what’s in your heart without diminishing what’s in theirs. We don’t have to reduce people. We can choose to try to understand them, and if we still cannot accept what they have to say and the conversation is not productive, well, now you have a bit more of a human perspective.
This, I hope, can help us understand those people. And maybe, in our understanding, we can learn to love this “enemy”, as our neighbor, as we love ourselves.