Lenten Devotional: Feb. 17, 2021 (Ash Wednesday)

Love for Enemies
by Allison Floyd

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The other day, I was hiking at Watson Mill State Park with my nephews – 11-year-old Dylan and 6-year-old Daniel – when the older kiddo tagged me and screamed, “You are the Stinky Cheese!” Both boys ran away in a fit of giggles, trying to stay just a step or two out of my reach so that I couldn’t tag them back and return the Stinky Cheese title. We ran and stumbled and laughed along the trail for an hour, letting the game cool off just long enough for someone to let their guard down and let the Stinky Cheese get a little too close. 

We all know this game. It’s tag with some sort of minor stigma for the “It.” Cooties, germs, stinky cheese. 

It’s a silly game and there’s certainly nothing wrong with playing. 

But, I didn’t like this game as a kid. Though I couldn’t express then why I didn’t like it, the game has an aspect of tribalism. The idea is to pick out one person to exclude as an “other,” one who is different and can infect the purity of the larger group. That didn’t sit well with me as a kid. I didn’t want to be “It,” but I also didn’t want to tag someone else and mark them as “It.”

We have a tendency as people to build groups where we share common thought and culture, then we exclude others. We take something that is good and comforting – ritual and shared experience – but become rigid in it and build walls to shut out others. 

And, the crazy thing is, we can feel safe and happy within those walls.

Freakonomics produced a podcast a couple of years ago called “How to Be Happy,” and interviewed the co-editor of the World Happiness Report, an annual assessment of the well-being people claim in various parts of the world. The episode discussed how Scandinavian countries always top the list, but also how that sense of well-being and social trust can be strained when immigrants and refugees move in. People seem more willing to share with people who are like them.

Walls (figurative or real) can protect our homogeneity, while blocking our view of what we are missing. In the past year of reflection, reading and prayer with my LYDN group and others, I’ve come to see some of these walls in my own life, structures built of fear or resentment or just unfamiliarity. 

I think that’s why Jesus took it to the extreme with his instruction to love our enemies – not just people outside our families or people we don’t know or people who speak other languages, but our enemies

It’s hard to pray for people who persecute us and others. But, for me, it’s just as hard to see and love the people who fall somewhere between cherished family and distrusted enemy. I like social media validation that says I belong in the right group. I want an excuse to reject opinions that don’t mesh with mine. I’d rather not wrestle with the thought that someone else experiences injustice while I have a relatively cushy life.

When Dylan tagged me last week, I couldn’t quite remember where I heard about the Stinky Cheese. It’s a book, “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” which retells common fairy tales from another perspective. The writer, Jon Scieszka, also wrote “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” the classic story told from the wolf’s perspective.

I ordered the books from Avid, so that we can read them together. I need to keep thinking about seeing the world from another perspective and tearing down the walls that separate me and my neighbor. 

Maybe I’m OK with being the Stinky Cheese. 

Prayer: God, thank you for working, day by day, to expose the walls I have erected in my life to separate me from my neighbors. Give me the courage and wisdom to see and love my neighbors … all my neighbors … and may they forgive me when I retreat behind those walls.