In the novel, All is quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, we follow a bit of the life of a young German soldier named Paul Baumer, fighting in World War One. In one part of the story, we find Paul huddled in a shell hole in the midst of an enemy bombardment. The first wave of enemy troops clatters over him, but then an enemy soldier falls into the shell-hole as well. Instinctively, Paul pulls out his dagger and stabs him. The enemy’s body grows limp and lifeless. Paul thinks he has killed him, but, after a while the dying soldier moves a bit and even opens his eyes. He looks at Paul in terror. Paul knows he is dying, and gives him some water and tries to bandage the three stab wounds in the man’s chest. But the soldier dies shortly after that. Paul is deeply disturbed by it all.
He looks in the soldier’s pocket and discovers that the man’s name was Gerald Duval, that he was a printer and kind of poor. This man who had been an abstraction, an enemy soldier, now becomes all too real for him. He finds a picture of a woman and a child. Moved, he speaks to the corpse…”Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother.” Filled with remorse, he says to himself… to the world… “We always see it too late”
We always see it too late. It is almost hard wired into us to see that which is ‘different’/‘other’ before we see what is the same.
That is the work of Satan. The primary work of Satan is to divide. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to unite. But we humans have always been so quick to respond to the temptation to divide.
We see it in today’s scriptures. In the first reading, there were two who were prophesying who weren’t there at the beginning. So Joshua, Moses’ right hand man, asks Moses to divide the two groups. “Moses, my lord, stop them!” They are not the same as us. The Gospel tells of a similar situation with Jesus. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus who is about the work of uniting, not dividing, responds: “Do not stop him. Whoever is not working against our purposes is working with us.”
Satan works to divide. The Holy Spirit works to unite. Moses and Jesus refuse these arbitrary divisions. Jesus will simply NOT divide. He will not make an enemy out of those doing it another way.
When Pope Francis addressed the congress on Thursday, he said it this way: “There is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” The devil divides. The Holy Spirit unites.
So how do we avoid this temptation? How might we live this gospel?
1) Delete this phrase from your vocabulary. “Those people.” It does not matter who we finish that sentence with – the rich, the poor, the murderers on death row; the frat boy or the sorority gal. As long as we see them as THOSE people, we’ll never see them for who they are in God’s sight.
2) Unfortunately that is exactly what we will be inundated with these next 13 months – people labeling the other as dangerous, as the enemy. We call it an election year… So, put on a set of filters this election season – EVERY TIME you hear a candidate dividing us – Ask: Who are they keeping out? Who is excluded in the values they are proposing? And do you like the prospect of that kind of world? 3) The next time you are ‘in the proverbial fox hole with your enemy, do something to “see pictures in their wallet” or cell phone. – Find out about their family. Recognize the humanity, the fears, the struggles of the person you are in disagreement with.
“Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother.” Filled with remorse, he says to himself… to the world… “We always see it too late.”
Let us not see it too late.