Homily July 31, 2022
Do you know why political campaigns produce negative ads?
They’re not to convince voters from the other candidates to reconsider their choices because of new, and damaging, information. They’re designed, instead, to keep their own people in line by using fear, personal fear of the other candidate, fear of their character, and fear of imagined consequences should they win. If they can’t herd you by their virtue as sheep dogs, they can at least try to keep you in the flock for fear of imaginary wolves.
We live in an age of “they” and “them” of people put into easy categories often because of superficial differences and membership in these often-imagined groups comes with presuppositions about a person’s history, their mindset, and their personality. How far we’ve come from the Rev. Martin Luther King’s admonition to consider each other not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. Now everyone has to belong to a group, and membership in that group whether by race, sexuality, politics, ethnicity, any host of things, even if requires a heaping pile of intellectual sloppiness to pound the square peg into a round hole, is all that matters.
There are powerful people who want it that way because it makes it so much easier to both sell to, and control, people who think in this manner. Fear of the other is the first tool of the propagandist and the last refuge of the scoundrel. It kills humanity from the inside but makes a lot of money for people who know how to exploit it. Old men use it to wage war and young men die because of it. Those who are conditioned to be reflexively afraid of the ”other” are easy prey for slaveowners.
But what if it was different?
What would it be like if we saw everyone else in the world as Christ sees them, as objects of God’s love, as those for whom our Lord sacrificed Himself, as not “other” but neighbor, not as members of any particular group but rather as a person created, regardless of their differences from us, in God’s image?
And what if we determined that because of this we would try to, in love, help them bear their burdens, we all have them, and give ourselves, even if we had legitimate personal reservations, to their betterment, to their thriving, and most especially to their ultimate salvation?
What really would happen if we tried our best not to judge the entirety of a person by one specific characteristic, even if our standard was legitimate? How different would the world be if we saw the person who lets their dog go to the bathroom in our yard with Jesus’ eyes? And how about that politician who makes our skin crawl, you know the one in the nasty ad? Are they my enemy or are they a potential neighbor, a fellow human, and an object of God’s love even if their behavior and votes seem grievous? And the person who sits next to us in church. Do we just disagree with them or are we trying to help them bear their burdens in the spirit and love of Christ?
I can tell you what would happen.
First there would be astonishment. We’re so used to living in the world at each other’s throats, emphasizing what is disagreeable and avoiding seeing each other’s humanity in the image of God, that being well, whole, and good, looks like abnormality. Imagine if in a political debate one of the candidates, upon hearing the other’s answer, would truthfully say “Well, you know you have a point there…” We’re so used to fighting, to hating, to blaming, to holding grudges, that any kind of effort at reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, mercy, or even gratitude seems like maladjustment.
Yet, that astonishment would be the seed of a joyful revolution because each gracious thought directed to the other, each act of kindness, each bearing of each other’s burdens in the spirit and truth of Christ would plant the possibility of something else, something better, in the heart of the world. Hating, bitterness, doing violence, not doing unto each other as we would have done to us, is unnatural, inhuman, and debilitating to body and soul.
Serving the other lifts us up, humanizes us, and makes us whole.
You see, as Orthodox Christians we have a different basis for seeing the people around us. All the human definitions and categories are insufficient and often dangerous ways to see each other. What we are called to see is the image of God in everyone and every other label as secondary at best, perhaps a part of who people are but often a mere stereotype. This standard applies to everyone, even those who disagree with us and even those who would do us harm. This applies even in the church where there should be no Democrats or Republicans, no masked or unmasked, no distinctions or privileges based on wealth or position, and no ethnic or racial superiorities.
Yes, we do have our teachings, our moral standards, the high calling of God that we’re not to compromise in the winds of history but at the core of each of us, central to our identity and central to that high calling is a human being, made in the image of God, broken and challenged sometimes for sure, but also never completely extinguished. It is to that image that we appeal, it is that image we respect even in those who may hate us, and it is that image of God that makes all other categories, no matter how much the powers that be may insist, that turns everyone who we’re told is “other” than us into “neighbors” and even, by grace, brothers and sisters whom we can love and serve with the fullness of our heart.
And in seeing the image of God in everyone this is how we can bear each other’s burdens, and love, and be at peace, and let go of our fears. Rather than tearing down in endless competitions we can build up. Forsaking old animosities, we can find peace. By choosing faith over fear, we can set ourselves free from those who control us by keeping us afraid. And by rejecting the darkness we can become children of the Light.