In the weeks leading up to our trip to South Africa, we read about the horrific attacks that took place in Johannesburg and in Durban toward foreigners. They were referred to as xenophobic attacks as they were attributed to frustration and anger lashing out at people who had supposedly come to South Africa from other countries and taken away jobs. There are undoubtedly many other factors, but these attacks made the worldwide news and, as a result, we had more than a few people coming to us and asking whether we felt it was safe to still make our trip to the country in light of these attacks. Clearly, we felt it was safe and it absolutely was for us and our travels. The day that we visited with the girl we support through World Vision, we also stopped at a ministry seeking to build up young people in the central part of the country through education, training, support, and education. It was a great visit but one quick comment has stuck with me. One of the young men who helps with this program said, “we are not all xenophobic” as we talked about some of the issues facing South Africans. As we talked further about his comment, it was clear how much these attacks had impacted him and the perception he was feeling others have of his country and his people.
A few days later, we were in Johannesburg and Soweto and were driving into Soweto when we passed the sign that you see pictured with this post. It was one of many that I saw throughout Johannesburg and scattered in other parts of the country as well. As I read the sixth chapter of Luke and came to verses 27-36, I was struck once again by the radicalness of what Jesus says here…
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
I wish I could say that when I left South Africa to return home that I was returning to a place where we don’t have to worry about this kind of fear-based violence or hatred. Or that the attacks in South Africa were the only kinds of attacks of such a sort throughout the world. Or that we were somehow living out these words of Jesus in radical and transformative ways. Unfortunately, just in our country we have seen the ways that we are continuing to build up the walls of hatred and division. We all know about the shooting of the 9 men and women at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC – a horrific act motivated by racial hatred. In the weeks since we have read about the burnings of at least 8 historically black churches in the southern part of the United States. Across world we have the continuing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere that is motivated by hatred and fear.
It is right and necessary to condemn these horrific acts and to do all that we can to prevent them from continuing.
We have had the recent Supreme Court decisions that have ratcheted up the rhetoric between political groups and people throughout the country. The commentary that I have read from people both in the public eye as well as private comments in response to facebook posts, etc is heart-breaking of the ways that we view one another and those with whom we disagree.
I am not so naive to think that everyone on this side of heaven will be able to come together around a campfire and sing Kum By Ya. But I do believe that Jesus calls us to a radical form of love for others – friend and “enemy” alike. Whether another loves us currently or may love us in the future in return for our love is not the point. Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers in on what he said in this section of Luke…love your enemies…do good to those who hate you…bless those who curse you…pray for those who abuse you…enemies, hate, curse, abuse met with love, goodness, blessing, and prayers.
i recently downloaded Gungor’s newest album which has a song called Land of the Living. One part of the song just keeps ringing in my heart as I write this…the song says, “You cannot love in moderation.” So true. So true.
I remember a sermon many years ago on this passage. The pastor said that one way this can be lived out is not by praying against an enemy or praying for what you think an enemy ought to be or to do. But to simply pray for those who are called enemies. You don’t need to lift up anything more than, “God, I pray for ________” – nothing else needs to be said after they are named – Its God who does the work. As Jesus said, pray for those who are your/our/my enemies. Praying for them does not mean you agree with their actions or what is happening, but instead is simply lifting them before the God who created them just as God created me and every other person – created in God’s image (even as we all do a lot to twist that image in ways God never intended).
So, who are considered to be enemies? I am sure we could come up with a pretty exhausting and exhaustive list. Pray for them. Love them. Bless Them. Do good.
A quote I saw in several places in South Africa from Mandela says the following:
If you want to make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy and that enemy becomes your partner.