On the night of a particularly painful news story of a bombing in a UN-protected school in Gaza filled with refugees, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed to see a relative had posted a picture of the flag of Israel and the statement, “I stand with Israel.” My insides clinched as images of dead children repeated in my mind. Tending to avoid conflict and particularly political debates via the Internet, I just scrolled on. But other articles in multiple venues about polarization and incivility continued to jump out at me, especially those that blame “the other side” for the polarization. When we demonize “the other side” in any debate, we have lost sight of their humanity.
One of the gifts I love about the wisdom of Jesus is his capacity to surprise people who assumed he would be “on their side.”
- The man who claims to have followed the law perfectly and wants now to follow Jesus seems like a perfect candidate to be a disciple, and yet Jesus says, “Go sell all your possessions first.”
- The disciples discuss which of them will be first in heaven, and Jesus calls over a little child.
- The Pharisees seek to trick him into defying Roman rule, and he supports both giving to Caesar and to God.
If Jesus ever “takes a side,” it seems most clearly to be found in the Beatitudes: Blessed are (or maybe “I side with”) the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. Jesus doesn’t choose sides. He chooses values.
St. Ignatius taught us to always be aware of our attachments—be it to country, political party, family, or cause. When we find ourselves more attached to “our side” than our values, chances are the spirit-not-of-God is at play. The cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality is self-awareness of what is truly driving us and a willingness to take off our blinders to the labels we have given the world. It means having the courage to admit when “our side” has not upheld our values. It seems in our world these days, we are far quicker to label the other than to unlabel ourselves. If instead living our values becomes the primary objective of whatever we are doing, it doesn’t matter which “side” we are on.