Christ's Call to Unite That Which is Divided
Our country is divided, and becoming more divided with each passing day. Whether it’s our politics, the latest debate of the NFL and the American flag, the proposed tax cuts or health care or simply different opinions on social issues or particular beliefs, we are a nation divided. We no longer seem to know how to get along with people who have different opinions or beliefs, but instead want to demonize the other, ridicule the other, hate the other, and separate from the other, treating them as if we have nothing in common.
We are nation divided and it seems like the very fabric of our diverse American society is in danger of being ripped apart. And what is more disturbing for me is that even many people who claim to be serious followers of Jesus Christ show little difference from the rest of society when it comes to getting along with one another. Meanwhile, the devil is laughing throughout all this division because he is the One Who Divides. Do you know the Greek word for the devil, O Diavolos, actually means the One Who Divides? The devil, the Great Divider.
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is the One Who Unites. The Holy Spirit brings together that which has separated from the time of the Tower of Babel. Jesus Christ is the Great Peacemaker, the Divine Mediator who brings peace and unity first between humanity and God, and then between one another. Our Lord strives to bring together, even enemies and those who hate one other, even those who struggle with different opinions with one another – liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, blacks, whites, and those who come from every ethnicity, Christians, Muslims, Jews and all religions, believers and atheists, homosexual and heterosexual, and whoever else may differ from one another. Christ is the Source of unity, the One who brings together!
This is spirit we see in today’s Gospel reading. It begins with the Golden Rule “Treat others, just as you want to be treated.” The most fundamental lesson of love begins by treating one another with the respect, the kindness, the good-heartedness, the compassion and empathy, with the divine love that we ourselves want to be treated with. It all begins here, and ends here. If we treat one another in this manner – even those with whom we ardently disagree – then we are taking the most basic step toward coming together, toward trying to understand and see the side of the other. We are treating the other with the respect and love that every child of God created in the image of God deserves, no matter how different their opinions may be from ours.
In the Holy Scripture passage before and after the Golden Rule, Christ elaborates what it means to treat others as we want to be treated. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back… Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)
When you go home, read these words from Luke 6 again. Post them on your refrigerator so you can see them each and every day. Our Lord gives a clear directive on how to treat others, starting with those we may hate the most – our enemies! As Christians, we don’t despise our enemies. We don’t reject our enemies and caricaturize them as some monster so different than ourselves. We don’t give them labels and treat “those liberals” or “those conservatives” as if they are so different than ourselves. We don’t say those “immoral” democrats or those “hypocritical” republicans. We don’t give labels of hatred and division which separate us from one another, and create in our minds how different those with different beliefs are from ourselves. We should never treat anyone, no matter what they believe or what they’ve done, as if they are not children of God, created in His divine image. No, as Christians Jesus calls us to follow a different path.
Jesus expects His followers to walk the difficult path of unconditional love and deep respect for the other, a path which leads to unity and oneness. We may have different opinions, but we can still treat one another as brother and sister. We may have different viewpoints, but we still focus on our human connectedness and on all that we have in common instead of on what divides us.
Of course, a key point is that “we treat others as we want to be treated,” and we do this regardless of how the other treats us. Here is the extremely difficult point. Here is the radical nature of God’s call – we are to treat others with love and respect, regardless of how they treat us. Jesus says “Love your enemies” even if your enemies hate you back. We are to “do good to those who hate us” even if they don’t do good to us back. When someone curses us, we are to bless them. When someone mistreats us, we are to pray for them.
How do we do this? How can we act with such love, when the other is acting with malice and hatred towards us? This is the difficult path that Christians are to follow.
We can accomplish this only when we keep our focus on God, when we get all our inspiration from Him. We have to keep a vibrant and daily connection with the Source of Love, and when we are daily filled with His love, we will then be in a position to share that divine love with others, even our enemies! But if we just look at the other, the one who is hurting us, the one who is disagreeing with us, the one who seems so different from us – if we just look at that and see their hatred, then we will respond back with hatred. If, however, we remember God’s unconditional love for us, His unlimited mercy He shows to us every day, then we will be able to act from this starting point of love.
We love others and respect others, because God first loved us and respected us, even with all our own shortcomings and failures. He is patient and merciful to us. That is how we can then imitate His Spirit, and be patient and merciful to others.
We are called to treat others the way God treats us. We love others, even our enemies, because God has filled us with His divine love. This is the spirit that will lead towards unity with one another. The devil, o diavolos, divides us with his hatred and his emphasis on our differences with one another. Christ our Lord unites us with Himself, and calls us to see the beauty and good in one another, focusing on loving one another.
Let us all go out and become instruments of this unity and love, treating one another as we want to be treated!
Macarius the Great of Egypt; Mark, Bishop of Ephesus; Arsenius of Corfu; Makarios of Alexandria; Makarios, Hierodeacon of Kalogera, Patmos; Removal of the Honorable Relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian; Branwallader, Bishop of Jersey
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