“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. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
There are numerous psychological studies that prove that humans are wired to fear what is different. Humans originally developed this perspective to keep ourselves keen and cautious, but due to emotions, media, and natural human flaws caused by sin, that skill has progressed into behaviors that are often bigoted, destructive, and ultimately driven by fear.
Some of those same studies highlight strategies to replace that fear with kindness and compassion. There is a theory called the “identifiable victim effect” which poses that it’s easier to empathize with an “other” when you put a name or a face to him or her, rather than be flooded by a sea of statistics.
In other words, when we hear an “other’s” story, we connect to the humanness in him or her and find that we aren’t so different after all, and there is no need for fear or intense self-preservation.
Learning the life events that led up to why that man is standing on the street corner with a sign, why that women is selling her body every night, or even why that 20-something made a bomb threat at the local mall, can allow us to understand how that person that seems so different had the capacity to make a decision that seems so far from what you or I might choose to do.
This isn’t requiring a justification of people’s actions or an exemption from due consequences, but rather just allowing us to hold space for love, connection, and acknowledgement of our fellow human beings.
When Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, that is the ultimate instruction to see the “other.” And in all honesty, it feels pretty unrealistic in our day-to-day life. But nevertheless, He commands us to love those that are the most “other,” and to pray for them.
In a recent Ted Talk by author Sally Kohn, she discusses the spectrum of hate that human beings are capable of, ranging from hidden bias, to bullying, to terrorism. She then challenges listeners to examine where they fall on that spectrum, and to be willing to adjust those behaviors toward actions of love. In responding to Jesus’ call to love our enemies, increasing our efforts to “see the other,” it can begin with the small things.
- Being willing to increase awareness of our own hidden bias.
- Taking time to hear the story of someone we may have passed judgement on.
- Enduring what may be uncomfortable to enter someone else’s world, try their food, learn their culture, find what’s human.
It is then that we begin to act as the “true children of our Father in Heaven.”
About the Author
Britni D’Eliso is a quiet but fearless spirit who is earnestly seeking the beauty of the redemption that Jesus has personally determined for her life. Committed to the truth that listening breeds understanding and understanding results in compassion, she clings to the power of life’s stories. She has embarked on the venture of discovering her own story and lending an ear to the stories lived out in others and savors the trace of Jesus that is woven throughout them all. Currently, that journey has landed her in a balancing act between the role of wife, momma, and a mental health therapist.