We all know the reality of contempt and disgust. Occasionally I purchase an 8-ounce bottle of pickled herring at our local grocery store. For those of you unlucky enough not to be raised in parts of the country settled by Scandinavians, pickled herring consists of chunks of raw herring and onions that have been pickled. The ones in dill-wine vinegar are excellent, but I prefer the ones in heavy cream. I have grandchildren who find this delicacy simply disgusting, but I don’t mind. At the rate they eat our food, my little jars of herring would disappear in a matter of minutes if they liked it.
I remember one time when our son put a healthy dollop of whipped cream on his dessert at a potluck only to discover it was Miracle Whip. Or the time when I was small and didn’t want to eat something on my plate. My mother told me I should eat it not simply because there were starving people in India, but that if I was picky God would call me to be a missionary to tribes that ate slugs and caterpillars. My parents were missionaries, so though I didn’t ask, I wondered what bad thing they had done to receive their call.
There are some things that are hard to take, and only specialists who have objectified the process are able to handle it with calm professionalism. That recalls the lovely, dedicated medical professionals that staff emergency rooms and pediatric cancer wards. Forensic pathologists that must examine dead and decaying bodies. First responders to torn and maimed bodies spread out on the ground after a horrific accident or a mass shooting.
The brokenness of the world is very broken indeed.
So, as I say, we all know the reality of contempt and disgust, things we find so unpleasant we wish no part of it. The question I want to ask here is whether we ever feel those feelings about classes of people.
I’ve been picking up—in Tweets, op-ed pieces, interviews, personal conversations—that this is not uncommon. Of course, those with a progressive political bent tend to look down on different groups of people than those with a conservative political bent. But both share the common experience of finding some people, some groups so contemptable, or at least so unpleasant and unreasonable that they have no interest in seriously befriending them. And Christians tend to attach biblical proof texts to their dislike, especially if the disliked do things they believe forbidden in Scripture.
I thought of this when my reading in Scripture took me to Matthew 9:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [v. 35-36]
I wondered who were in the crowds. Sinners, we know, probably of all sorts—economic cheats, dubious political affiliations, toxic personalities, sexual offenders, blasphemers. Doubtless some in the crowd heard Christ speak and do mighty signs and yet still would not believe. Perhaps some in this crowd would be in the crowd that later called and agitated for his crucifixion.
And yet Jesus had no contempt, no dislike, no disgust, only compassion.
This is one practical measure of politicization. If I have these negative feelings about some segment of society, or some group, or individual, to that extent I am being unfaithful as a Christian. I am a conservative or progressive with a thin veneer of religiosity to satisfy my sense of piety, rather than a Christian with a political leaning. Our call is to follow and be like Jesus, and when he saw the people in his society he loved them, deeply enough to serve and give his all for them, mourning their lostness as broken people in a broken world.
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