"Here you are sitting in my house. I am having a hard time believing you are here because everything I've ever been told about you is whirling around in my head. I was told you and your country are evil. You and your country are responsible for the violence, turmoil and destruction of my country. I was taught to hate you and America. Now you are sitting in my house drinking tea." (Mohammed, Syrian refugee currently living in Jordan)
Six of us sat together in silence for a few moments and stared at the steam rise from the hot tea in our glasses. I felt unusually calm. No racing heartbeat. No rapid searching for words of reassurance or encouragement. I listened as the Arabic tones modulated from high to low like an ancient melody being sung. The three Syrians chatted softly with each other as we three Americans sat in peaceful silence. They were refugees. We were there to listen to their story and offer them some basic items like blankets, tea, sugar, lentils, rice and diapers for their children.
There is a great temptation to remain cleverly disguised as a Christ follower while merely loving the people who love us in return. The action that sets a follower of Jesus apart is the love of their enemy. Jesus leaves no room for debate. He clearly sets out the strategy of how and why to love our enemy. Matthew's gospel incorporates Jesus' details in chapters 5-7.
Enemy-love is not self-evident. We have to be carefully trained. Every culture throughout time has its own methods of identifying, resisting and destroying enemies. We can generalize about the process but eliminating the enemy is universal. Enemy-love confronts our human nature. It challenges us to seek other ways of being with each other. When it comes to enemy-love, Jesus confronts more than our human nature. He confronts our sin nature. It is the purple elephant in the middle of every relationship and situation.
Enemy-love begins with examining our own heart for motivations that are to be God-honoring and for purposes greater than our own. Enemy-love crushes stereotypes, erases past hurts and employs all of us to do the work of eradicating what was believed to be irreparable damage. We get a glimmer of what Jesus was able to accomplish every time we fight the good fight we are called to fight. Enemy-love is the reward in itself. It is for those who may feel the awkwardness of learning something new or the terror of confronting evil in whatever form it presents itself.
Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message, describes it like this:
I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. Matthew 5:44