There is an old Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.’ A strange kind of left-handed phrase, it seems to imply a blessing, not a curse at first glance. “May you live in interesting times.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m sensing that we are more than struggling with’‘interesting times’’ The pandemic. Inflation. Social unrest. The political sphere. And now, will there be a war in the Ukraine that drags NATO in to something looking like the entangling alliances that led to World War 1? And of course, right here in Jesus’ own Catholic Church, infighting of ideologies, with so many declaring themselves completely right and everyone else completely wrong. Yea, may we live in interesting times. Don’t lose it!
When I was an undergraduate student many years ago, I studied philosophy. In fact, I have a degree in philosophy. And yea, I know, a degree in philosophy and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Sad to say, in these anti-intellectual days where not much deep thinking goes on any more, many people will probably agree that philosophy is a pretty meaningless pursuit. Why study philosophy when you can go right for the MBA and get rich? Who needs deep thinking to make a stock trade?
I’ll tell you who. We all do, whether we realize it or not, and Jesus proves it so in our Gospel. But more about that later.
In philosophy classes, you’ll meet this dude named Socrates. Some say Socrates was a literary creation by Plato, sort of like a man sitting down to write an autobiographical novel about himself but giving the main character a different name. Others insist he was a real flesh-and-blood man. I don’t know, and it doesn’t particularly matter. What does matter right now is that Socrates is credited with inventing the Socratic Method. And even if you’ve never heard of it, it is vitally important in these times to understand it. All doctors and care-givers are bound to utter another phrase attributed to Socrates, called the Socratic Oath. It says, “Do no harm.” And while I’m not going to talk about medicine, in a way I am, and “Do no harm” combined with an understanding of the Socratic Method is exactly what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel today.
Jesus says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Really? Sounds like Jesus might be smoking something wacky here. You don’t bless your enemies, you hate them. You get even with them. You disagree with someone, and that’s personal: you write that person who is then your enemy right out of your life. “How dare that person disagree with me! I’ll have nothing more to do with him!” And taken to extremes, people get hurt and even killed over disagreements. We see it on TV almost every day.
But Socrates and Jesus have the answer, if only we’d listen: it’s called dialogue. The Socratic Method holds that in order to gain a closer understanding of objective truth, people have got to talk to each other in mutual respect, accepting that maybe, just maybe, I may not have the complete picture I think I have, and dialogue with another can in turn assist our mutual understanding of the world around us. At the very least, it can turn that dehumanized opponent of ours in a real living and breathing person. Imitating Jesus doesn’t mean that there will be always complete agreement, look at his relationship with the Pharisees. But it does mean that there must be mutual respect, or, quite frankly, just ask Jesus, we risk hanging someone up on a cross.
But we don’t seem to do much dialoging any more. We ghettoize ourselves into hanging around with only people who agree with us, and we maintain an us-against-them attitude. The heck with dialogue: if you disagree with me, you have nothing to say.
So, I don’t know if the word ‘enemy’ exactly applies to those with whom we may disagree, but I hope you see my point. Christians are called to love and respect each other, even and maybe especially during disagreements. Christians are called to dialogue, to seeing the point of view of the other as at least worthy of respectful consideration. I often wonder what Jesus would think if he sat anonymously in Congress, at our family get-togethers, and maybe even here in Church. Would he see us loving our enemies?
Dialogue and mutual respect: the very application of the words “Do No Harm” and “Love Your Enemy.” Perhaps the next time we’re tempted to write someone out of our lives who differs with us religiously, politically, morally, we might better say, “Hmmm. Interesting point of view. Can we talk about it?” And even if our attempt fails, we can still be assured that as we stand before God on our Judgment Day we can say, “I tried to love all, Lord, I really tried.”
And by the way, legend has it that Socrates was killed… by his enemies. He too lived, and died, in interesting times.
May God bless you.