By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Is this new or are we just more aware of it? Hatred and contempt are everywhere. They are in our government houses, in our communities, in our churches and in our families. We are struggling, mostly without success, to be civil with each other; let alone to respect each other. Why? Why is this happening and intensifying?
Moreover, on both sides, we are often justifying this hatred on moral grounds, even biblical grounds, claiming that the Gospel itself gives us grounds for our disrespect – My truth is so right and you are so wrong that I can disrespect you and I have biblical grounds to hate you!
Well, even a cursory look at scripture should be enough to enable us to see this for what it is; rationalization, self-interest – and the farthest thing from Jesus.
Let’s begin with something already taught long before Jesus. In the Jewish scriptures, we already find this text: “I have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions. Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why do we break faith with one another?” (Malachi 2:8-10) Long before Jesus, Jewish spirituality already demanded that we be fair and never show partiality. However, it still gave us permission to hate our enemies and to take revenge when we have been wronged – “an eye for an eye.”
Jesus turns this on its head. Everywhere in his person and in his teaching, most explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount, he challenges us in a radically new way, telling us that, if we want to go to heaven, our virtue needs to go deeper than that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. What was their virtue?
The Scribes and Pharisees of his time were very much like the church-going Christians of our time. They were sincere, essentially honest, basically good people, who kept the commandments and practiced strict justice. But, according to Jesus, that isn’t enough. Why? If you are a sincere person who is honest, keeps the commandments, and is fair to everyone, what’s still missing? What’s still missing lies at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching, namely, the practice of a love and forgiveness that goes beyond hatred and grievance. What exactly is this?
In justice and fairness, you are still entitled to hate someone who hates you and to extract an appropriate vengeance on someone who has wronged you. However, Jesus asks something else of us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
This is the very essence of Christian morality. Can you love someone who hates you? Can you do good to someone who wishes you evil? Can you forgive someone who has wronged you? Can you forgive a murderer? It’s this, and not some particular issue in moral theology, which is the litmus test for who is a Christian and who isn’t. Can you love someone who hates you? Can you forgive someone who has hurt you? Can you move beyond your natural proclivity for vengeance?
Sadly, today we are failing that test on both sides of the ideological and religious spectrum. We see this everywhere – from the highest levels of government, from high levels in our churches, and in public and private discourse everywhere, that is, people openly espousing disrespect, division, hatred and vengeance – and trying to claim the moral high ground in doing this. Major politicians speak openly and explicitly about hating others and about exacting revenge on those who oppose them. Worse still, churches and church leaders of every kind are lining up behind them and giving them “Gospel” support for their espousal of hatred and vengeance.
This needs to be named and challenged: anyone who is advocating division, disrespect, hatred or revenge is antithetical to Jesus and the Gospels. As well, anyone supporting such a person by an appeal to Jesus, the Gospels, or authentic morality, is also antithetical to Jesus and the Gospels.
God is love. Jesus is love enfleshed. Disrespect, hatred, division and revenge may never be preached in God’s or Jesus’ name, no matter the cause, no matter the anger, no matter the wrong. This doesn’t mean that we cannot have disagreements, spirited discussions and bitter debates. But disrespect, hatred, division and revenge (no matter how deeply they may in fact be felt inside us) may not be advocated in the name of goodness and Jesus. Division, disrespect, hatred and vengeance are the Anti-Christ.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)