At the time of the turning of the seasons, the winter solstice, I try to take time to reflect on the fundamental challenge of humanity: our obligations to other humans and our ecological environment. It would be easy to divide the world into binary, competing ideologies: good – bad, black – white, us – them. When the lion kills and eats the deer is that good or bad? It depends on the perspective. What I’m getting at is that goodness is a spectrum and it isn’t good – bad but a continuum between love and fear. This Christian season of Christmas is an opportunity to review our beliefs and understandings of that continuum and our positions on it in terms of human and natural relationships.
In the northern hemisphere the number of hours of daylight and night reached equality and now the daylight is increasing as we move toward the summer solstice. This milestone signaled rebirth and growth to ancient humanity. The early Christian church adopted this idea as the time of the birth of the savior and thus we have the Christmas-near-solstice phenomenon. After all, what herder of sheep would have them scattered across the frozen, snow covered hills? Returning to the idea of the foundation of the Christian religion, the coming of the messiah, just what was his essential message, expressed in words rather than just his deeds?
It is an old message, one that predates the birth of Christ: Do to others, only those things that you would want done to you: The Golden Rule. This idea of actions and interconnectedness with each other is found across all major religions in words appropriate to the times and places that birthed them. The Quran expresses this idea in even stricter terms as a failure of the compact with God:
“See ye if the (Revelation) is (really) from Allah, and yet do ye reject it? Who is more astray than one who is in a schism far (from any purpose)?” 41:52.
For Christians perhaps the most direct explanation of the rule comes from Matthew 22:34:
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” N.I.V.
Just who were these authoritarians who felt justified to question this traveling rabbi?
The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead, the existence of spirits, and the obligation of oral tradition, emphasizing acceptance of the written Law alone. The Pharisees were an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. (From the online dictionary).
Basically, they represented the Jewish establishment that sought to preserve their authority to define what was in conformity with the Law as they interpreted it and keep the franchise true to those understandings. This desire to keep the power and riches that the individual and their institutions have accumulated is evidenced today in the rise of authoritarian regimes across the world, just as it was in the time of the rule of the Roman empire. From their perspective this Jesus was the ultimate threat; a back-woods, unapproved upstart who went around preaching that we are all responsible, as individuals for our actions and that those actions have consequences. Putting aside the mountain of theological ideas, opinions, expectations and explanations, I want to focus on the love vs fear continuum at the heart of this conflict.
The weapon wielded by Jesus and many others throughout history is Love. It is an unconquerable force: love; it is the no-fight that no amount of force can overcome. What this means to me is that in every interaction I must come down on the side of love, even towards those with whom I disagree.
It is hard to love and not fear the other. If we want to live in accordance with the will of the creator of this reality, if really do not have much choice.