An emotion that may stall our impulse to love our neighbor and instead feed our anger, hatred, and rage is fear. Fear is a primary emotion and serves us well when it comes to jumping off the edge of the Grand Canyon or out of a 20 story window. It may cause us to run and dive under an object in the face of a gunner. It can prevent us from putting a noose around our neck just to feel what it would feel like to hang. Fear may also prevent us, even paralyze us from acting on our behalf. It is a primary emotion that feeds secondary emotions of anger, hatred, and rage. When it does, we cannot move to love our neighbor. One of the important steps in loving our neighbor is reaching out to the other. If we fail to reach out to another person, we cannot get to know the other person and learn to love them for who they are. They and you languish as a result. You must form a relationship with someone to love them. You need to know how, in what way, you know someone to love them. Do they need food or clothes, medical care, or our personal attention? Are they bringing you a surprise like one of the angels in the Old Testament? Are they likely to be a good friend? Whenever we drop our guard, our fear to find out who the stranger is and form a relationship with the person as a person who deserves to be known and loved for their own sake.
I have been reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks study of the rise of Nazi Germany and am saddened by not only those events but by observing some cultural similarities between the 1930s German culture and our own 2019 culture. The overwhelmingly feeling, I am getting, is that of a destructive tendency that seems to dehumanize a portion of society, and hence, to commit mass violence against it. We create scapegoats of people that we do not like. We call a select group of people by derogatory names telling them they are not wanted. When we do that, we dehumanize them. They are now an object instead of a person for whom we have feelings. Hate and rage rule our behavior instead of compassion, empathy, and care. A large part of the recent rhetoric in public places has been to scapegoat minority groups. This makes me wonder how we can love either God or our neighbor. You see when we dehumanize someone, individuals or groups, we not only make them objects which we do not have to treat kindly, but we create objects of ourselves. We are now ruled by our hate and rage toward the other and have lost our own capacity to feel loving toward them or ourselves. Hate and rage are all-consuming. They are feelings that destroy the object of hatred or rage and the hater. To love God, our neighbor and ourselves, we must have access to our emotions, our feelings of compassion, caring, and empathy. We cannot do that when we are blinded by name-calling and the desire to kill, to be rid of a cancer in our midst. The outsider, the stranger is there for us to love or care for in order that we discover our own humanity.
We affirm that Jesus prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them…” A prayer that upholds another precept taken from our Jewish heritage. Three central commandments from the Jewish faith are equally central to the Christian faith: to love God, our neighbor, and to forgive one another are at the heart of our moral characters, and prayer is a central activity. Let us stop to consider forgiveness. If we are to love our neighbors, is it not important to forgive them? Have you ever known of a relationship with even the most loved person you did not need to ask for forgiveness or to forgive? If your answer is ‘yes’, then you must know a perfect person. In other words, to love is to forgive and to be forgiven. To love the stranger, we often need to request forgiveness, for often, it is our own labeling of the person that has caused them to be a stranger to us. We create outsiders, strangers, because they are different than we are and we do not want to deal with them. Hence, forgiveness is necessary for us to enter into a healthy relationship with them.
I want to continue my exploration of what it means to be a Christian. Some people would say that you have to be baptized and to keep the sacrament! That’s interesting. First of all, from my experience – those insisting on baptism would reject anything Jewish. But baptism was a Jewish rite of purification which John the Baptist, probably an Essen and definitely a Jew, preformed in the Jordan River where he baptized Jesus of Nazareth a Jew. And during the process of that baptism Jesus is identified as the Son of God as a Jew. This is the event to which people point for baptism as a requirement for being a Christian. It is all very confusing isn’t it. Some people who claim to be Christians reject all or some of the sacraments including baptism and the Eucharist. Does that mean they are not Christian? Some would say yes. I would not agree for I find the issue to be confounded by what we have accepted as part of our faith from our Jewish fore fathers or mothers, how we have transformed and made what was theirs our own, or just accepted what was theirs as our own.
What does it mean to be Christian? It means that we adhere to the belief that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, that he suffered and died for us in order that we would be freed from our sins and reconciled to God. We need to follow some parts of the old covenant as well as to follow the parts of the New Covenant. The old covenant is based upon our taking in the stranger and our loving our neighbor. As far as the authors of Deuteronomy were concerned, it was more important for us to take in the stranger. The New Covenant seems to have emphasized loving our neighbor more. You may want to add to or emphasize one or more elements of faith here. I’ve tried to streamline them so that they are all-inclusive. You may emphasize some of these elements more than others. Some people would deny the two primary Deuteronomy Laws – love of neighbor and love of the stranger on the grounds that it comes from the Old Testament. I would suggest to you that you will find this same material in the Beatitudes, in James, in Paul’s letters, and in John’s Gospel. You see many of the people who founded our faith were Jews first. Some of them remained Jews all of their lives like Jesus did. Others like those that John wrote about in his gospel broke off from their Jewish synagogue. Still others were Gentiles, those persons who were not Jewish, a large portion of whom were Greek to begin with.