When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The more the leaders try to trap him, the more Jesus tries to show them what it means to be living in the kingdom of God. They cannot seem to hear him; they perceive him as a threat to their way of life; as long as the Romans aren’t too rattled by what goes on, they are left alone and are free to live a life of relative wealth and ease.

Loving our neighbors as ourselves is often more difficult than it appears. When I was working as a nurse in chemical dependency, I used to say to some of my patients, “I love you, but I don’t necessarily like you right now”. It was something that I said so that they knew that I would do what was in my power to help them toward a better way of life; it also let them know that sometimes their behavior wasn’t appreciated or helpful. It’s also a helpful thing to say when raising teenagers. Anyone who has ever spent time with teenagers knows that sometimes, you have to love them despite their actions.

Much of life is that way. People all around us can irritate us; we can be bothered by their behavior, or by what they think. All of that is rather superficial most days, and the commandment to love our neighbor requires us to go much deeper.

It seems especially important to talk about this as we get closer to the upcoming election. Public discourse has been filled with more hatred and callousness than I have ever seen. Everyone seems to forget that they are speaking to and about other human beings, other people created in the image of God. Now, lots of people say, “oh, well it’s because of social media” or “the press is encouraging bad behavior”. My answer to that is that you and I are responsible for our own behavior. No one makes us speak and act this way against our brothers and sisters. It seems to me that we have forgotten how to listen. We are all so busy yelling over each other, even if only in our minds, that we cannot hear what the other is saying. We think we already know; we think we are right. We are not listening with the ears of our heart. My guess is that no matter who the other person is, there is something that is true about what the other is saying, or perhaps what they aren’t saying. I would be willing to bet if we listened with our hearts, we might hear the unspoken fear or desire that lies behind another’s words and actions.

For example: I am rabidly pro mask wearing in the current environment. Now, if I say, I am pro-mask, what do you hear? Well, if you listen with the ears of your heart, what you would hear, is that CNN just published a study that says people with Down Syndrome have 10 times the risk of dying from covid-19 than the general population. I have always known that people with Down Syndrome were immunocompromised, and tend on the whole to have a shorter life span than the rest of us. At the turn of the 20th century, their life expectancy was 12 years at the most; now they are living into their 60’s. This virus could easily kill someone I love, and so I try to encourage people to do what I think is the right thing. It has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the life that I live and people I care about. I think for most of us, the “hot button” issues are about the lives we live and the people we care about. Most people want to protect their way of life, or want to improve it; and they usually want what they perceive is the best for their families.