By Fr. Glenn Jones
Begging your attention a moment: consider the division sign: ÷
It could rather symbolize two persons divided by a fence, couldn’t it? Perhaps that was the intent of its original design of its symbolism of division. But, the sadness is … though both dots/persons are identical, one is lower than the other … that barrier of division between them preventing communication or, perhaps, even unification.
Not so unlike us humans, wouldn’t you say? Though we outwardly lament divisions, we tend to cultivate them nonetheless—the “other” person being “lower” or “inferior” in one way or another. Single-minded seeking of increased status for status’ sake is such a division. Also, considering oneself superior simply because of an innate or circumstantial condition: “I the superior race / You’re of the inferior race.” “I’m of the greater class / You’re of the lesser class.” I’m smarter, wiser, prettier, richer, etc., … ad infinitum.
The more harmless (usually) divisions are of rivalries in sports matches and the like, but even those can turn quite hostile and—remarkably—even deadly if more unstable actors cannot separate game from reality. But … there are the much more serious divisions of racism, religious hatreds, philosophical differences, nationality, and divisions of socio-economic class, politics, etc., all which can cause endless strife and segmentation … to the point that each of us can become an almost singular “superior being” if we want to believe ourselves so. Such are selfish and narcissistic delusions.
But, really … are the differences among us so very great as to warrant treating others as the inferior in our division sign? Have not our innate characteristics in great measure been determined by the genetic lottery? … by the seemingly circumstantial influences of culture, education, etc. Shall we denigrate a person who was raised in dire poverty or in a third-world country with little educational opportunity when we have no idea if that person might have far excelled ourselves given the same opportunities?
Are we not all human beings—a common thread binding all? To adapt Shakespeare a bit: “Hath [I] not eyes? Hath not [I] hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as [you are]? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” (cf., The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1).
We Christians especially must seek to ever increasingly adhere to the ideal of cleansing ourselves of often enculturated prejudices and hatred, pride and narcissism, remembering that all persons are children of God … each a person for whom Christ Himself died upon the cross. And, if Jesus loves so very much the person whom we are despising (“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)), dare WE despise another? … especially remembering John’s vision in Revelation: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” (Revelation 7:9) No one is more inclusive than God!
Yes, we might find persons viscerally objectionable in various ways due to their (or our) rearing, our influences in life, etc., but that’s why we have that wonderful gift of reason—that external characteristic that makes us most divine—to aid us in remembering that each person is a child of God, unique and unrepeatable—each having his/her own worth by one’s own life in itself. After all, does one toss out a gold bar due to tarnish? Does one toss a hundred-dollar bill because it is crumpled and dirty? Then why would we despise God’s greatest creation of all simply because that person doesn’t meet our own (very) subjective standards? Each person has infinite worth in himself … even if it may be hard to see at first glance. After all, Einstein was a lowly patent clerk in his beginning. Jesus, a “mere” carpenter.
St. Paul writes: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 4-7). One can be the greatest general in the world, but without the soldier nothing comes of it … and thus it is the apparently lowly soldier who gives the general his worth. One can be the greatest engineer in the world, but without the apparently lowly craftsmen, nothing comes of if … and thus it is the craftsmen who ultimately give the engineer his worth.
So eschew division, realizing the worth in every person. An old religious adage is: “Today’s sinner is tomorrow’s saint,”; perhaps, like Einstein, today’s clerk may be tomorrow’s genius. Perhaps a beggar on the streets of Albuquerque might save a wandering child in the street from death; who would then look upon him as worthless?
Always there is possibility in every person … potential in every human life. So, rather than to despise, disparage and disdain, let us rather seek to uplift, uphold and unite in our common humanity, removing that line of false division between us. Jesus doesn’t tell us to love only those with whom we have an affinity, but rather to treat all as we ourselves want to be treated … to the point of directing: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” (John 15:12) … a love even unto death.
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.