It’s a little over a week now to the mid-term elections here in the United States.
I am, by training, background, and nature, a die-hard political junkie – following the very latest polls with a super-abundant interest and a (mostly) unabashed partisanship. The names of the incumbents and the challengers in each of the contested US Senate races around the country flow ever so easily from my lips, along with the latest projections from Nate Silver and Election Projection.
While my one and only run for political office in 1998 may have derailed my political ambitions, it did nothing to diminish my interest.
So, yes, I do get passionate about these political contests and about my own personal preferences – which, admittedly, are not that difficult for an outsider to discern.
Some might even say that I get obsessed.
Some would be right.
Every election year, I find myself being less than charitable towards those who hold an opposing political viewpoint. (And, I recognize, I am being more than charitable with myself by phrasing it in that way.)
So today’s reading, from Matthew 22: 34-40, is certainly timely:
“When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Love my neighbor as myself?
Well, that’s easy enough to do.
In the abstract.
The trouble is, we don’t live in the abstract. We live in a flesh and blood world, with real people, doing real things. People who are often tempted to lie, and to cheat. People who are frequently arrogant, and hurtful, and cruel. People who might be willing to try just about anything to win or to advance a pet cause.
In other words, people just like me.
So, do I have to be “neighborly” even to those who work to promote policies and agendas that I view as wrong – and even, in some cases, contrary to the clear teachings of my Church? Are they my neighbors too?
Well, yes, of course.
A lawyer (or “legal scholar”) raised the question some 2,000 years ago, and put it succinctly: “Who is my neighbor?”You know the rest of the story.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37)
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Samaritan was, of course, from a despised religious sect. It was nearly scandalous for Jesus to insert a Samaritan into one of His parables and then cast him in a good light.
But that was the point.
The neighbor, according to Jesus, treated the “robbers’ victim” with kindness, love, and mercy. A kindness, love, and mercy that might not have even been extended to the Samaritan had the roles been reversed.
So, as Jesus counsels, our neighbors are everywhere. They are everyone. Our neighbors are even – and maybe especially – those with whom we do not otherwise get along.
For me, it might be someone with whom I strongly disagree politically – even one who might never extend to me the same recognition and courtesy.
Being a follower of Christ in an election year ain’t easy for me.
Over the next week or so, I know that I will face my own personal challenge and dilemma.
I cannot and will not abandon those candidates, ideas, and values that I believe are best.
At the same time, however, I must remain ever mindful that those promoting opposing candidates, ideas, and values, are still my neighbors, and that I’m still called to kindness, love, and mercy.
Contemplative prayer for love and forgiveness may well provide the key here.
I have a feeling that I’m going to be spending an awful lot of time on my knees this week.