To love the other
Love is one idea among many that is wholly intertwined with the Christian religion. For many, they would even say that love is its very foundation. Besides the Passion, it’s certainly what Christ was most famous for: “He loved the sinners” is something we always say about him, and rightly so. But do we actually grasp what that means?
To love in the Christian sense means to love one another, in all the weight that the word implies. It is to sacrifice for each other without thought for our own well-being or benefit, and to love even when it’s unpleasant to. It is to exist for the other, like Jesus did. If we actually remember what Christ challenged us to do, however, this goes far beyond merely loving those around us.
The challenge of Christ is to look upon the reviled and see them as people; as truly worthy of being seen as individuals like us. Who were these reviled? Who are the neighbors we are to love? Jesus, in response to this very question from a Jewish lawyer, tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Now we’ve all probably heard the story many times, but are removed from what made the parable so revolutionary in its time. To a Jew, the notion of a Samaritan helping the traveler must have been ludicrous. These people hated each other. They considered each other inferior socially, culturally and religiously. Jews saw Samaritans as deplorable, and so to suggest that a Samaritan could succeed morally where priests and Levites (both considered social paragons in Jewish society) could fail was probably not only surprising, but insulting. Still, the lawyer had to concede that a Samaritan was the neighbor of whom Jesus spoke.
What would that mean to us today? Simple. To any of us, if we were the lawyer, this story would merely mean that whoever was our neighbor included those that we hated with every fiber of our being. The Other. One who was separate from us and our social circle such that we’d have no real reason to care about them. Now that’s a little different from merely “loving sinners,” isn’t it? Yet this is the challenge that Christ’s legacy posits for us today. Who are the people we hate today? Who are those we hate from a distance and those we hate that are closer to us? Those whom it isn’t a pleasant experience to show love to? These are our neighbors. These are those whom we are called to show love to. To see as individuals fundamentally as deserving of love as any of us are. We may not notice it, but in any exercise of Othering is the fundamental lowering of another in comparison to us. To remember to love may be as simple as remembering that idea whenever the temptation arises to see them as something other than people like us. To remember that there is no real difference between us and the Other.
Ultimately, Christ’s legacy is to extend the circle of love beyond our friends to our enemies as well. It calls us to peer beyond curtains of separation to see humanity in things we either take for granted or choose to see as not worth our attention. And what of the use of all this? Many would see such a commitment as impractical rather than merely crazy. In this they would be right. To choose to operate out of grace and love is to be impractical, since practicality is only focusing on what’s expedient. But the world has operated and turned based on expediency for a long time already, and the results of this sort of thinking are what we cry against even now. To look at nothing beyond ourselves (truly beyond ourselves) is the definition of selfish.
What are we to do then? We can challenge those that claim to serve God by looking to see whether or not they operate according to this fundamental character of Christ yes, but ultimately this is something that should challenge us all, religious or not, especially today when there is more of a tendency to build up walls even as we speak of tearing them down.