Of Politics And Neighbors

Of Politics And Neighbors October 26, 2014

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.

Ugh.

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.

Peace

 

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  • Jerry Lynch

    I frequent (yet less and less so over the past three months) One Political Plaza, an online forum for the ultimate testing of love of neighbor (though that is not their stated purpose). The hate, stupidity, and utter nonsense that can be found there is actually frightening, if it in any way is representative of the electorate. How we got to this deep level adamant divisiveness is a mystery to me but very sad.

    My political platform is that I am really and truly just a citizen of heaven, “a stranger in a strange land”…but there have been occasions when I lost sight of that homeland and got in a Liberal trench on “the moral high ground.” Only afterward seeing it was arrogance, not any virtue, that held my position. Then the big question would come: do I, as a Christian, belong in politics? I have posted threads with Christian themes so I am known as a Christian: then what picture do I present about faith in Christ?

    I had remained utterly civil and respectful for a long time, making that my primary goal in all exchanges. But just by the stances I took, my Christianity was questioned and some of the Fundamentalists called me a false teacher and a minion of Satan. I continued to treat them as my neighbors while promoting those principles and values I see as vital to our community, which only succeeded in driving the wedge deeper. Even though I do not hate or even dislike anyone on this site, they take my views as an attack on their principles and values. My point: it appears that love of neighbor involves being apolitical, a concern only for the kingdom of heaven and not any earthly kingdom. The people, yes, that is our purpose, but not the kingdom.

    • Tom Zampino

      I really appreciate your thoughtful comments, Jerry. I believe that we are called to interact, civilly and respectfully. But it’s certainly not easy. One other thought: the internet is probably not the best forum for any of this.

  • Political debate does get nasty. I am at my worse this time of year as well. Either because my side is looking very good this year or the political bug in me has deminished, i’m not as passionate in the comment boxes on political sites this time around. I also haven’t been going over as often. It only raises my blood pressure.

    • Tom Zampino

      Thanks for your post Manny! I understand!

  • Marg

    I so agree! I fight with myself over this! I usually lose though! I just have accepted, I do not want anything to do with any Democrats. I have old friends and family who are Dems, and I find I want little to do with them any longer. To me, their ignorance is responsible for the violence and depths of hell our country has sunk to!

    • Tom Zampino

      Thank you for reading my post Marg!

  • Mary E.

    Like others, my willingness to “love my neighbor” is under strain as the election approaches, and I am praying that the virtue of charity grows stronger in me. But I am also praying that this era of identity-based politics will run its course soon.

    • Tom Zampino

      I’m on board with you Mary!