I’ve held season tickets for our local university’s home baseball games for the past 17 years. I sit with an eclectic bunch – doctors, business professionals, off-shore oil workers, electricians, elected officials, and accountants. We share snacks, know about each other’s family members and take pleasure in their achievements, and always have something nice to say to one another. Everyone gets along great even though we have very different politics. And when fans for the opposing team are seated in our section, they are greeted and treated courteously. What bonds us is that we all like college baseball.
Viewing today’s highly contentious political scene, I’ve wondered why this same spirit, respect, and camaraderie so evident in the ballpark can’t carry over into mainstream politics. After all, we are all citizens, and love our country and our democracy.
Looking back to biblical times, one finds that this sense of divisiveness was as ingrained then as much as or even more than it is today. There are many examples throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
For example, the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans was very pronounced. Although Samaritans were descendants of the Hebrew people and shared many common religious beliefs, the Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with one another. One major point of contention was that the Samaritans believed that the chosen place of worship was Mount Gerizim, while the Jews believed it was Jerusalem.
Although this animosity was longstanding in Jesus’ day, he did not buy into it. While passing through Samaria, he stopped at Jacob’s well to refresh, struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman, and asked her to draw him a drink of water (see John 4:1-26).
She appeared dumbfounded that he, a Jew, would even speak to her, much less ask her for water. Through the ensuing conversation, Jesus told her of her past, and she perceived that he was indeed a prophet. Then the woman raised the issue of the chosen place of worship. His response raised the issue to a higher level: “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.... But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus’ spirituality and perceptiveness cut through this major point of contention among the Jews and the Samaritans. His affirmation that God is a Spirit made the location of worship irrelevant. Many of the Samaritans then came to visit with Jesus, and he stayed in Samaria for two more days to meet with them.
Jesus also used the example of a Samaritan in the widely quoted parable of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). This parable illustrates that a neighbor is one who has a large enough sense of love in his or her heart to help another person in need, regardless of his or her religion, race, or politics.
In both instances – in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, and in the truth related in the parable – the negative stereotype was dropped, and a more universal view of God as the Father of all was held in consciousness. This view nullified the antagonism and divisiveness.
In our encounters with those holding differing views, we can begin to follow Jesus’ example and rise above the issues of contention to reach a common ground. This happens naturally at the ballpark, and I attribute that to my and my fellow fans’ common love of the game. I’m committed to seeing it happen in all areas of my life where it doesn’t come so naturally. Jesus’ example is a guiding light. If my and my fellow citizens’ love for our country isn’t enough to dissolve contention, my commitment to seeing myself and those fellow citizens as sons and daughters of the same creator, and treating them as such, can still help begin to heal divisiveness.
Walt Whitman, commenting on America’s great pastime, said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game....It will repair our losses, and be a blessing to us” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 23, 1846). In this same spirit one could say, “I see great things in spiritual mindedness; it will repair our view of mankind and be a blessing to all.”
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