There’s been a lot of ugliness in the past couple of weeks. But I believe that God brings beauty out of the ugly. Even when it feels like the walls are closing in and the ugly is smearing everything I hold dear—I’ve staked my life on the belief that the beauty God brings is more convincing than the ugly that soils.
What strikes me most about the ugly conversation swirling around the Syrian refugee crisis is how convinced we’ve become that Muslims are our enemies.
What strikes me most about the beauty of the gospel is how radically it reorients our hearts and our actions towards our enemies.
It is the greatest irony when we are excited about sending missionaries to Muslims, but are opposed to bringing Muslims to us.
But we aren’t the first ones to stumble over our longing for national security and the fear of our enemy’s violence. The first Christians were so desperate for a Messiah who would deliver them from Rome’s brutal oppression that they almost missed Jesus, even when he stood right in front of them. I can’t fathom the shock, even the betrayal, they must have felt every time Jesus served their enemies rather than condemn them.
I can’t imagine how vulnerable and exposed Jesus’s actions must have left them.
There was this time when a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant. A leader in the very army that denied Israel her freedom. A soldier who stood out in an army renown for it’s brutality, cruelty, and savagery. An enemy of Jesus asking for help.
There was this time when a Jewish tax collector trembled in a tree. A traitor to his people, a crook and a thief, a person who robbed from the poor and gave to the rich. An evil man of deplorable character whose extravagant lifestyle was fueled by the blood, sweat, and tears of the poor. An enemy of Jesus inexplicably drawn to him.
There was this time when Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night as he prayed in a garden. One of Jesus’ friends tried to protect him by violence and cut off an attacker’s ear. And then time stood still as Jesus told his friends to put their swords away, and reached his hand toward his enemy. An enemy who came to attack Jesus.
Jesus served his enemy in the first story. He honored his enemy in the second. He made peace with his enemy in the third. Jesus may have told his followers that they were to love their enemies, but I suspect their memories of when he showed them how to love their enemies lingered longer.
If Muslims truly are our enemy, then we must not forget that the gospel has given us a new way to treat our enemy.
The trouble is, like many aspects of the gospel, if this never offends us, then we probably aren’t paying attention.
It seems like concern for American safety has trumped our concern for Muslim lives. But Jesus wasn’t driven by the desire for safety. It seems like American comfort has become more important than loving our enemies. But Jesus sacrificed comfort the day he was born, and certainly the day he died, all for the opportunity to look his enemies in the eyes as he showed them how unbelievably strong his love for them was.
Jesus loves Not-Us with an unswerving love, wining entire multitudes over into Us.
Or have we forgotten of the time when we were Not-Us?
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even Muslims do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even ISIS does that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
May God bring beauty from the ugly that threatens to swallow this whole.
May we truly love our enemies the way Jesus loves his.
(But this is only half the story. To read the other half, read Part 1).