The Rev’d Peter Godden writes:

When Manchester United were beaten five-nil at home to Liverpool recently, I recognised their pain all too well – my side Watford had suffered the exact same fate only eight days previously. When Liverpool are in that sort of form, there’s not much that many sides can do to contain them.

But I had particular sympathy for United’s thoroughly decent and likeable manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was the recipient of a torrent of criticism and abuse in the wake of the result, particularly on social media.

Sadly, receiving such treatment is far from unusual for people in the public eye. Following the appalling murder of the MP, Sir David Amess, many Members of Parliament have been sharing their experience of abuse and threats that they receive on a regular basis as they go about their work.

This hostility can flourish when we know a little about someone’s work or opinions, but don’t actually know the person themselves. We might become familiar with some aspects of a public figure, and have our attention grabbed by those things that we disagree with – but we don’t know them, and we have probably not met and become properly acquainted with them. And so rather than seeing them for what they are – a human being with gifts as well as flaws, and precious in the sight of their loved ones and the God who created them – they can remain symbolic of something to which we are opposed, or frustrated with.

This makes it easy for us to set our face against them, to ignore their humanity.

One of Jesus’ biggest challenges was when He told His followers to love not just their friends, but everyone – especially those with whom they profoundly disagreed. He went as far as to say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is very challenging indeed.

And yet, I am struck by how powerful it is when we take a step towards breaking down the barriers that exist between us and those we might disagree with, or be opposed to. The tendency for disagreement to become vitriolic is so much more likely if we remain relatively anonymous or removed from one another; it is when we encounter one another on a personal level that understanding and reconciliation become a very real and powerful possibility.
I recall as a young man reading with awe and admiration the story of Simon Weston, veteran of the Falkland’s War, and his meeting and reconciliation with the Argentine fighter pilot who bombed RFA Sir Galahad in the conflict in 1982. They ceased to be anonymous to one another, and instead encountered one another’s humanity; extraordinarily, they now count one another as friends.

As we approach Christmas, some of us may hear the words of the prophet Isaiah in church services, where Isaiah looked forward to a time when the Saviour of the world would lead those who were once set against each other to be united, and at peace.
In this complicated and difficult world, where we will understandably so often encounter differences and conflict, may we find the strength to be compassionate to one another, and be filled with the reconciling love of Christ.
Every blessing,