For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;a time to kill, and a time to heal;a time to break down, and a time to build up;a time to weep, and a time to laugh;a time to mourn, and a time to dance... Ecclesiastes 3.1-4
Diogenes, the raspy ancient Greek philosopher, was famous for his harsh critiques. Like your cranky uncle or the householder who kept the neighborhood kids' ball when it came over the hedge and into his yard, Diogenes customarily tore into anyone who came near enough for his voice to reach them. In fact, the philosophical school he founded became known as the Cynics (from the Greek word for dog), because they barked a lot. Diogenes' disciples cowered when he came near, expecting a double barrel blast. Once upon a time, a Cynic student of Diogenes failed his ethical commitments miserably, lapsing to the philosophical equivalent of a mortal sin. The student grieved and suffered, waiting for the expected berating. As he sat out in the hot sun and braced for the inevitable, though, Diogenes walked forward...and simply sat down silently next to his miserable mentee. In the wisdom-laced language of Ecclesiastes, the great philosopher knew it was not "a time to kill," it was "a time to heal."
There is a time for everything. But what happens when a time to dance for one half of our nation arrives simultaneously with a time to mourn for the other half? After the 2016 election, Reds did a touchdown dance -- sometimes in the face of those who were grieving; and Blues did the same in 2020.
The current American moment requires Advanced Placement empathy from the American people who, recent studies suggest, are pretty remedial at it. Social scientists have chronicled a growing trend in the last two decades called "selective empathy." In a trove of research, they've observed that Blues increasingly reserve their compassion for their own tribe and Reds do the same. If something bad happens to someone in my party, I'm weeping with them; if they're from the other side of the aisle, they're not worth it. We've all just watched the wild Republican week in the House of Representatives. As the GOP they took 15 tries to elect Kevin McCarthy to be their Speaker, the temptation for Blues to ridicule and gloat has run high. This week, Reds may have trouble refraining from ridicule as Joe Biden visits the southern border for the first time as President. Empathy for people we consider enemies or opposites is in short supply.
Friends, Jesus wouldn't be caught anywhere in the stratosphere of selective empathy. We who hope and claim to follow him are called to emulate his unconditioned compassion. And that's good news, because a bit of compassion would come in handy right now. Years of basic training in polarized behavior would surely incline Blues to throw salt in Red wounds, and vice versa. But the one who commands us to love enemies turns that logic upside down. In the Reign of God, we reserve our best efforts at empathy for precisely the people the world would incline us to hate.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep," writes the Apostle Paul. The harsh critic Diogenes knew when it was time to sit beside the downcast. Reds and Blues for Jesus, can we break formation with our culture's coldness and let grace abound?
Prayer -- God, how in the world do you love everyone? Teach us to do that, in Jesus. Amen.