Herod the Great ruled Judea under Rome’s auspices when Jesus was born. On the one hand he had to keep peace and collect taxes for Rome who brooked no nonsense in its provinces and kept a garrison in Judea to make that point clear. On the other hand, Judeans were not at all shy about voicing their contempt for everything Roman, from culture to politics to religion. Keeping both parties happy also meant keeping both angry. Complicating things still more was Herod’s penchant for living large. He didn’t hesitate to take anything he needed to make that happen. He lived with mixed motives: protect his people and protect his lifestyle. Herod’s threat to the infant Jesus arose from both. He didn’t need some supposed infant Messiah riling up his citizenry and precipitating a Roman clampdown. He also didn’t need the rumor of a nascent Messiah undermining his authority.
We’re all prone to ascribing simple motives to people. We maintain that our own motives are rooted simply in the good we espouse. Those with contrary visions derive their motives, at best, from complete ignorance and, at worst, from unadulterated self-interest. We’re able to act out of these one-dimensional notions even though we protest, “Of course, I’m not perfect and my opponents aren’t all bad but . . . .”
Love entails many things; one of them is listening. While counselors and TV gurus have touted this bit of wisdom in personal relationships for decades, we seldom apply it to our political or ecclesiastical relationships. It’s so far from our normal way of interacting in these arenas that we think ourselves open-minded when we grant our opposition the clichéd five minutes to make your case.
Most all of us sincerely want, and try to be, just and loving to others. When we fail, we pick ourselves up and resolve to do better next time. It would help if we would resolve to listen to others – especially to those others who, we are totally convinced, have no good reason for what they think and do. If we really want to love others, we have to do everything that loving entails. Listening is a good place to start.