To See Them as Human
Updated: Mar 8, 2022
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; Year C, RCL, Luke 6:27-38, Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
According to Brené Brown, “Hate is a combination of various negative emotions including repulsion, disgust, anger, fear, and contempt. We feel hate towards individuals or groups that we believe are intentionally malicious and unlikely to change. What’s interesting is that we can develop hate toward people we do not know personally simply based on their affiliation with a group or ideology that doesn’t align with our beliefs.”[i]
Throughout your life, you have probably had a person or two whom you would call an enemy. Someone who seemed to be out to make your life especially difficult or who prevent you from achieving your fullest potential. Someone who wants to do you or someone you love harm. There may be times when we know why they dislike us.
Maybe we have hurt them in one way or another. In this case, we should start with repentance and reconciliation in an attempt to heal this broken relationship. But this is a sermon for another time. In other circumstances, some hate us for no discernible reason. As much as we try, we have no understanding as to why they act this way toward us, but nonetheless, they do. The question presented to us today is, how do we begin to love someone who makes our life difficult?
I think it first takes a strong person to stop the cycle of hatred. It takes a strong person who won’t allow their primal urges to get the better of them. Our instinct is to attack or at least wish harm to someone when we feel attacked by them. And I believe this is why Jesus is adamant that we are to love our enemies, for love is the only way to find peace in ourselves and peace in the world. We can’t find peace if we are seeking revenge.
We can see a prime example of this when we look at the world around us. Where civil discourse has erupted in epithets and hatred. Where non-violent protests have ended in violence and death. People have downright hatred for the president; past or present. There is hatred toward fellow Americans who support a person they do not agree with. What started as disagreement and distrust has grown into hatred, a hatred that I believe is having a real damaging impact, not only on our nation but on us as individuals. This hatred has spilled over into much of our society from school board meetings to children’s ballgames.
When we hate someone, we have a hard time seeing them as fully and if they are not human then there is no humanity. We see this throughout American history. When the first Europeans landed here, the indigenous people were recognized as savages and not humans. This made it much easier to cause them harm. When enslaved people were seen as chattel, it was easier to abuse them. When we cannot recognize another human being as a human then we cannot recognize them as a child of God. And if we can’t see this simple truth, then we cannot begin to love them.
According to Martin Luther King Jr., the way we begin to love our enemy is “to discover the element of good in our enemy.”[ii] Finding love such as this is a most difficult task. And finding the good in someone who causes us distress is only the beginning of loving them.
This is what makes hatred so difficult. Hatred breeds hatred. If someone hates us, we hate them back. When we have such strong emotions toward someone whom we see as a threat, we do not think clearly. We are out to seek revenge or impart an equal share of damage back. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind; the adage goes. But to find good… To begin to love… well this may sound overly simple, but it starts with prayer.
If we can pray for someone, especially by name, then we begin to see them as human, someone who is part of God’s creation. And even if, at that moment, you can’t find anything good about the person, we should recognize that somewhere inside them is the divine spark of life which God created. And what God creates is good. Even if this is the only sign of goodness we can find, then it is through continued prayer that we seek to find more goodness, more of God’s divine light amongst the brokenness. This divine light may not only illumine the brokenness of others but reflect back to us our brokenness as well.
There are times when we have to heal, change, or grow before we can begin to ask others to do the same. Someone who is not sober would find it difficult to help another person to sobriety. Likewise, in an inflight emergency, we are asked to put on our masks before we help others. To truly love someone else we must know that we are loved; that we hold the light of Christ within our soul. As a Christian, a child of God, we know this truth, we know that God loves us. If we recognize our enemy as a child of God, then we know that God loves them as well. And if God loves them there must be more to them than we can see or know. Something that is redeemable and can be made perfect again.
Richard Sternberg says, “It is not clear that there is any magic bullet for curing hate. But any mechanism that helps one understand things from others’ points of view–love, critical thinking, wisdom, engagement with members of target groups–at least makes hate less likely, because it’s harder to hate people if you understand that in many respects they are not all so different from you.”[iii]
Jesus didn’t say we have to like all people. We don’t have to like the way they treat us, or others. We don’t have to like their views of the world. We don’t have to like their shoes or the way they style their hair, but through our love and prayers, we can pray that God will continue to refine all of our hearts and souls to become the people God created us to be.
[i] Brené Brown, “Atlas of the Heart” Random House 2021 [ii] Martin Luther King, Jr. Sermon “Love Your Enemies,” 1952 [iii] Richard Sternberg, “FLOTSOM: A Model for the Development and Transmission of Hate,” Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology 2