43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48
When I started my Scripture writing, without overtly knowing it, I was looking for a way to love my “enemies.” More accurately…I knew I needed to love the people I dislike better than I was at the time.
Jesus never said we’d like everyone. He never said everyone would like us. We might hate each other, in fact. There also seems to be some misguided idea that if you’re a follower of Jesus you just let things go; that you’re not supposed to do anything about conflict.
On the contrary, Jesus asks us to do the hardest thing: to love the person who trespasses against us. To dig down deep and love better and to keep doing the work.
I won’t go into too much detail because this is not actually about how great of a job I did, but there have been a few situations in recent months that absolutely set my hair on fire. Not physical acts, but harmful words posted by this acquaintance or that one. In a couple of these instances I’ve managed to dig down deep to provide a loving, Jesus-fueled response that does not tear the person down but puts a focus back on Jesus’s love. Love for all people…sinners, the unseen, the unloved, the unloveable. We are all of these things. The good times and the yucky ones happen to all of us, no matter what.
In the moments when I am angry and feeling hateful myself, I have to think back to those moments that I managed to pull off what Jesus has challenged me to do in hopes of getting better at it. Practice, practice, practice.
When I was listening to Tim Mackie’s sermon on this very topic from the Exploring My Strange Bible Podcast, he brought up Martin Luther King, Jr. as a prime example of this agape love (selfless, sacrificial, unconditional). This photo of Dr. King looking at a charred cross in his yard while he holds his son–before he removes the cross–bowls me over every time. Dr. King prayed over that burned cross and asked God to bless those who did that act. Why? Because this selfless love is the only thing that can make humans see each other as just that…human. All made in God’s image. All of us.
And the work continues.