On a silent night of Bethlehem, Christ the Savior was born. Who and what Jesus Christ is has been in question for all of Christian history — even in Mark’s gospel, the people in the crowds around Jesus say, “who is this man?” Among the many answers people might give, surely it is his teaching about how we should see ourselves and each other that has hope of saving us.
Even though history is littered with every kind of cruelty and violence humans can imagine, still there always emerges a person, a group, a movement, that calls us back to the bright light of the words of Jesus that serve to scrape the crust from our hearts and set us on a path toward finding a better way, toward making amends, toward restraining our selfishness and dark passions and renewing our sense of common humanity. The words “love your neighbor as yourself “echo back to us again and again.
I watched the funeral of President GHW Bush today and heard the testimony of friends, family, and news commentators say over and over in many different ways that the focus of the president’s life had been toward people first. People over politics, people over personal gain or personal triumph.
Senator Alan Simpson said that one of Bush’s sayings was “those who travel the high road of humility are not bothered by heavy traffic.” Bush’s mother is said to have instilled this virtue of humility in her son. “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, those who humble themselves will be exalted,” Jesus said.
Bush’s mother was also credited with having taught him that hatred corrodes the container it is carried in. And Jesus said, “you’ve heard love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say, love your enemy.”
Jesus followers are never perfect in living by these words and yet even the faltering practice of them saves us again and again from the tyranny of ourselves. And, the practice of these things has a definite contagion, with potential for changing the nature of our relationships, the tenor of our voices when we are in conflict, and for giving us patience to wait through the inevitable disagreements we find ourselves in and perhaps find a way.
If you’ve read this far you might be thinking, “so idealistic.” Yes. You’re right. But here’s the thing. The message of loving and forgiving your neighbor and keeping our pride in check is both the ideal we fall short of and it is the impulse that always comes back to us. It’s like we can’t escape its call to us. Over the noise and clamor of our own inattentiveness, in the backdrop of all our comings and goings, and in the pulse of our very nature is the saving message:
Love your neighbor as yourself, figure it out, keep going. Keep loving in your frailty. Keep loving when you see the frailty of your neighbor. Keep going. Repeat.