Thursday, February 13, 2020

Rats and Cockroaches?

    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.  
-Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)

Very few people, I assume, buy a Valentine’s Day gift for their ex. But the San Antonio Zoo has a deal this year that might make you think about it. 
     For a mere $25, the Zoo will name a rat after your ex
     You say that’s not worth twenty-five bucks? All right, then, see how this sounds: After naming the unfortunate creature after your ex, the zoo will feed the rat to a snake on February 14th.
     Still not sure you want to drop $25 to buy a gift for a person who’s no longer your Valentine? Understandable. That’s why the Zoo has another deal that might be even better. For a mere $5, you can name a cockroach after said ex. And, yes, the zoo has plenty of birds and other animals that will be happy to wolf your ex’s namesake down. 
     You can even join in the fun — remotely, of course. The Zoo will be live-streaming the event on Facebook.
     Not only that, but you’ll also receive a certificate suitable for display on your social media.
     The zoo is obviously doing all this as a fund-raiser/PR move, with tongues in cheeks. Judging by the level of contempt and outright hatred that a lot of people seem to have for their exes, though, I imagine the zoo will have plenty of rats and cockroaches to feed to the animals on Valentine’s Day — ironically, a day that’s supposed to be all about love. 
     On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate those we love. We give gifts and do special things with spouses, romantic interests, sometimes best friends. We go to dinner together. We give candy and flowers. We celebrate romance, if we’re in a romantic relationship.
     In short, we celebrate Valentine’s Day by loving those who love us.
     And — the San Antonio Zoo hopes — maybe by resenting or hating those with whom we once shared something, and don’t anymore. 
     I don’t know if it was intentional or fortuitous, but a scheduling quirk put the National Prayer Breakfast the morning after the State of the Union Address last week. After one of the most contentious State of the Union Addresses in recent memory, political rivals had to sit in the same room together and pray. 
     The day after President Trump took a smug victory lap after the Senate impeachment trial, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of his speech, they and their colleagues had to listen to author Arthur Brooks keynote the theme of the Breakfast: “Love Your Enemies.”
     It’s worth a few minutes to read Brooks’ speech. But one thing he said in particular resonated with me: 
“How do we break the habit of contempt? Some people say we need more civility and tolerance. I say, nonsense. Why? Because civility and tolerance are a low standard. Jesus didn’t say, ‘tolerate your enemies.’ He said, ‘love your enemies.’ Answer hatred with love.”
     When it was President Trump’s turn to speak he began by saying he wasn’t sure he agreed with Brooks’ remarks. I imagine that was OK with Brooks, since as he pointed out they weren’t strictly his remarks, anyway. In point of fact, President Trump was disagreeing with Jesus. It was Jesus who seemed to come up with the revolutionary idea that love can’t be restricted to those who love us, to those about whom we have good feelings, who have done nice things for us, who make us laugh and who make our heart rates speed up. 
     Jesus called that kind of love easy. Almost anybody can love like that. What’s harder is to love like God loves: without discrimination. He loves the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. He loves by doing good to all people, no matter if they love him or not. God loves proactively. He loves first
     Jesus embodied that love: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 
     So he demands that those who follow him love like that. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.
     Be honest, now: President Trump isn’t the only one who struggles with that, is he?
     We often say that’s the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do. Well, maybe it is. But I don’t think it’s quite as hard as we sometimes make it out to be. Part of the problem might be that we hear “love your enemies” and think that means we’re supposed to have warm feelings and pleasant thoughts about people who’d just as soon stab us in the neck than talk to us (or who we’d just as soon stab in the neck). But a minute’s thought will tell us that can’t be right. In Scripture, God is sometimes angry toward human beings who have disregarded him or hurt other human beings. Jesus himself was downright rude at times. But, as he points out, God sends his sun and rain on everyone, however he might be feeling about them at a given moment. God loves primarily by doing, not by feeling. And so should we.
     So Jesus gives us something to do: “pray for those who persecute you.” One way to love your enemies is to discipline yourself to pray for their well-being. When you ask God to heal your ailing parents, or to help your friend with her job concerns, or to bless your children, you can also ask him to bless those people you don’t feel nearly so good about. And the more bad feelings toward them are in your heart and mind, maybe the more you should pray for them.
     Maybe you’ll have the chance to do something more for them. Visit them in the hospital. Send them a Christmas card. Maybe, one day, talk with them about what happened between you. Maybe you’ll never have that chance. But your prayers will be a real act of love on your part. And, incidentally, they’ll make that enemy of yours seem less like an antagonist to you, and more like, well, a person. Over time, praying for someone can’t help but reshape your view of them. And even your feelings.
     Maybe right now you’d rather think of them as cockroaches. Rats. 

     Pray for them, and you’ll likely start to see them the way God sees them. And love them like he does.

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