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Loving Those Who Are Unloving

My wife Donna and I were in a Jimmy John's gourmet sandwich shop in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Sunday, September 23, 2012. A poster on the wall beside the table where we were eating our lunch had this sentence in bold letters: "Offer your seat to senior citizens, pregnant women, and people with guns." Nobody in the room appeared to fit in either of the three categories, so we stayed put and enjoyed our sandwiches! How are we supposed to relate to people in our lives who sometimes "rub us the wrong way," or are at times just plain old hateful and hostile toward us? Jesus speaks to that issue in Matthew 5:43-48, but the words are much easier to read and preach than they are to actually practice. Verses 43 and 44 of that text say, You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." Say what, Jesus?! Love my enemies? Do good to them? Bless them when they curse? What gives here? Jesus wants Christians to love the unloving!

I don't find those words any easier to practice today than I did forty years ago when I decided to throw in with Jesus. Being a Christian is no guarantee we won't have to deal with irritating and even hostile people who are out to hurt us. If they hate us we face a choice — hate them back, or love them. If people curse us, the choice is clear — curse them back, or bless them. If they hurt and do evil to us, we can seek to hurt them back, or do good to them. If they treat us with spite we can "spite" them back, or we can pray for them. If we love them and do good to them, they may soften and become more loving and kind, or they may not. But one thing is certain — loving unlovable and unloving people, as Christ modeled and taught us to do on the cross, will make us better people, more Christ-like, every time it happens.

Roberta C. Bondi, in Memories of God [p 201], told about Dorotheos of Gaza, a sixth-century teacher, who once preached a sermon for monks in his monastery. Now, the issue here is not to condone or condemn monks and monasteries. But 1,400 years ago this guy nailed something powerful and true in his sermon. The monks were grumbling that they were unable to love God properly because they had to put up with one another's irritating presence. No, Dorotheos told them, they were wrong. He asked them to visualize the world as a great circle whose center is God, and upon whose circumference were human lives. "Imagine now," he asked them, "that there are straight lines connecting from the outside of the circle all human lives to God at the center. Can't you see that there is no way to move toward God without drawing closer to other people, and no way to approach other people without coming nearer to God?" How can we love our enemies when we sometimes struggle to love family and friends and folks we see at the church assembly each Sunday? I don't know but one way we can do it, and that is with God's help.  This much is forever true: "... when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son...." (Romans 5:10). We are like Christ when we love those who are unloving toward us. Think about it.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ