Thinking Anew – Finding a sense of solidarity
Photograph: James Brey/iStock
‘I try to see Jesus in him!’
It sounds amazingly simple but the advice to find Christ in everybody can be quite a challenge. It is one of the oldest simplifications of Christian ethics and its roots lie in tomorrow’s Gospel.
When Jesus tells Philip that anybody who has seen him has seen the Father, he is not simply declaring his divinity. After all, if you can see God in Jesus and can see Jesus in your neighbour then you see God in your neighbour. Seeing God in your neighbour is the basis of all moral thought in Christianity.
It is not possible for a Christian to preach the hatred of another person. To do so would be a denial of everything our faith stands for. We are permitted to hate sin but not to hate sinners, sinners are people and hating people is unchristian.
We have an obligation to see the fundamental goodness of everybody first.
When we think a pet is showing signs of empathy we tell the world. Empathy is something we see as very human and hints of it in other creatures delight us. It can be equally delightful when it comes from a human.
The ability to see the common goodness we all share and finding a sense of solidarity brings genuine joy to people.
Finding common ground, linking, networking, knowing, socialising and all the other enjoyable activities of life all find their power in empathy. Empathy is nothing more than the way we commune with each other.
Sympathy is also based on empathy and probably dominates our thoughts on the word.
We can find common ground in the bad and mediocre too. Empathy can join people together in a desire to do harm to others.
Empathy equally binds those who unite for their own advancement. It is the bond that unites people regardless of the quality of their motives. There is honour among thieves. For the Christian, the message to Philip adds a standard – to find what is good in the other person and to make your communion there.
If the results of that communion leads to the violation of the image of Christ in another person, you will have failed. You will not have seen Jesus in the victim.
The simple counsel, “try to see Jesus in everyone you meet”, has been chanted from pulpits, rocking-chairs and barstools since time immemorial. It persists in a world that has always been dominated by inequality and still it has stood the test of time.
Nobody knows who coined the phrase but it seems to have always been the staple advice of most Christians.
To see Christ is to see the Father. To see Christ in the reprehensible, malodourous, cantankerous, deviant, anti-social, “known to the gardaí”, vulgar person, is a choice.
Advice exists because it can be easy to forget to do the right thing. Good advice persists and is really a type of free-verse proverb.
Like proverbs, there is an almost finite amount of good advice that simply comes back in different expressions.
The advice to find good before bad, empathy before division and understanding before hatred makes good people even better.