At first glance, we are inclined to think that it was relatively easy for the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ story to be kind to the man he found beside the road.1 True, the stranger was probably part of a group that disdained him and his people and treated them, at best, as second-class citizens. But, as far as we know, there was no personal relationship that would make it much worse in our eyes.
Jesus Couldn’t Have Meant My Enemies
He didn’t have to deal with my boss or my neighbor who does everything he can to make life miserable for me, or the woman at work who makes snide remarks about me, or the guy who stepped on my head on the advancement ladder to get the position I really deserved. And he wasn’t the lady who cut me off in traffic or the guy who stole my girlfriend. He wasn’t the one who discriminated against me or even persecuted me because of my race, color, or place of national origin.
He wasn’t the spouse who had an affair with my best friend. Also, he wasn’t the one from somewhere different on the theological spectrum who spreads half-truths about me, or worse, the pastor or priest or member of a church who has traditionally been seen as the enemy. He wasn’t the one who humiliated or refused anything to do with me because of my sexual orientation or dismissed me, or worse, because of the political party or politician I support.
Jesus couldn’t have meant them when he challenged me to “Love your neighbor and 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” (Matthew 5:43-47).
Becoming Your Enemy
Perhaps Jesus understood something of human nature that we often choose to ignore, something the USA Today and New York Times best-selling author Michael Prescott writes about when he says, “When you fight someone, you take on that person’s qualities. You become that person. You become your enemy. And your enemy wins because now there’s another one of him in the world.
“If your enemy uses sarcasm, you will start to become sarcastic yourself. And if your enemy distorts, exaggerates, or conceals—you’ll start to rationalize such behavior of your own. If your enemy is mean and personal and insulting and rude, you will start to act that way, too. You think you’re resisting your enemy, but actually, you are yielding to him—not on the points under discussion but on the subtext, the attitude, the stance.
“Turning the other cheek or using a gentle answer to turn away wrath is not pie-in-the-sky idealism but practical advice for personal relationships . . . Thinking you have to convince or defeat your enemy makes him the most important thing in your world . . . fighting the enemy is what the enemy wants—the enemy (defines themself) by battles and struggles. If you define yourself the same way, then you are becoming your enemy.
“Argument breeds anger and eventually hatred. Your enemy stews in his own juices thinking of ways to humiliate you. You stew in your own juices thinking of ways to humiliate him. You have become your enemy.
“And since you can’t actually take out your anger on your enemy, you take it out on yourself. You create tension and fatigue in your own body; you turn against yourself. You literally treat yourself as an enemy. Time that could be spent positively, constructively, creatively, or just restfully, is spent on anger and fantasizing and strategizing. Scheming replaces creative thought. Revenge fantasies replace healthy imagination. Your enemy becomes your whole world. You see him everywhere, even in the mirror. He’s always with you. He’s part of you. He is you.”
True kindness is, first of all, not about actions—it is about something much deeper; it is more than skin deep, it is all about a state of mind and heart. It’s not about something you do; it is about who you are. It’s about attitudes and feelings that reveal themselves in what you do and how you act.
That is why kindness has such amazing results because kindness allows you to act rather than react, to do the positive rather than the negative thing—both for you and the other guy. It’s far healthier for you, and maybe it’s why you might turn an enemy into a friend.
You see when you intentionally choose to “turn the other cheek,” to use Jesus’ words, or offer to “go the second mile,” or choose to ignore a slight or an insult or choose to willingly allow that person to cut line in traffic or at Starbucks, or choose to share with someone who doesn’t deserve it, or choose to willingly help that unkind neighbor or co-worker, with no thought of quid pro quo, you are choosing to do something radical. You are choosing to live like Jesus, which changes lives—yours and others. And that doesn’t come naturally to us. That only happens when, in the words of the hymn, God lives out His life within us. That is why Paul calls it a fruit, a spiritual gift that only comes naturally, organically, when Jesus lives in our hearts and is the healer of our emotions.
Dan Appel writes from Northern California.© 2017 - 2023 When People Are Kind. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.