I was thinking about Matthew, the tax collector, the other day, and how the Lord selected an unpopular worker to be His disciple. And how well Matthew justified His choice. As usual, the Lord showed His freedom from prejudice in giving his servant the chance that he never dreamed of, one that changed his life, and our lives as we read his gospel. The Sermon on the Mount, that most radical testament to Christian conviction, commands us to love our enemies, which must be one of the most difficult instructions ever issued. We are obliged to banish the ‘eye for an eye’ impulse and confront one of the greatest spiritual challenges of our lives. And although politicians are not necessarily our enemies per se, the instruction includes our attitude towards them.
I must admit that there are certain people who make my toes curl, whose presence on the TV ruins my day. ‘You lying cheat’, I think judgementally, and if I were Shakespeare I would shout ‘avaunt’. But we belong to a rational and charitable faith and clearly cannot continue as we are. Many politicians are the modern equivalents of the unregenerate Matthew, out for their own advancement, but we know from the Writings that the Lord can use these flawed folk for the good of mankind. We can judge their actions on the surface but are not able to separate the wheat from the chaff, which constitute the internal man or woman. So we are obliged to operate on the benefit of the doubt.
The Lord can use their mediate good for His own ends; we don’t necessarily see the whole picture. Politics is known to practice ‘the art of the possible’ so those who enter the fraught profession are not entirely free agents. They are forced to follow the dictates of the party line that skews their actions, especially in emerging nations like ours in South Africa. You pay a heavy price for stepping out of line, and death threats are not uncommon.
We must also examine our attitude towards love. It is not always a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling, but a desire that inclines us to pray for the other, and wish him or her well. Love is also a verb – we can will ourselves to be positive and charitable. Pope Francis said recently that this gospel is an invitation for Christians to take a moment before passing judgement on others and to follow the example of Jesus’ mercy to sinners. ‘We too judge others in our hearts, don’t we? Are we corrupt? Or not yet? Let us stop and look to Jesus who always judges with mercy: “Neither do I condemn you” He says, “Go in peace and sin no more.”
We may criticize external actions even as we pray for politicians, and wish them well, for to love is truly to wish the other well.
And we can always turn off the TV.