And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!
[This is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies. He is explaining to his disciples how they can be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires.” (See Day 23)].
In his discussion about how we should treat our enemies, Jesus tells his disciples that one of the differences between his followers and pagans (non-Jewish idol worshipers) is that they should be able to talk to people who aren’t friends. So if it’s good to talk to one’s enemies, then I guess it must also be a good thing to talk to strangers.
When I found myself thrust into the role of being a pastor’s wife one of the most difficult things for me was trying to start up conversation with new people who had heavy foreign accents. This was a serious problem because ours was an urban church located in a neighborhood with more than 50 ethnic groups. I hated getting into those stilted conversations where I had to keep saying, “What?” a thousand times. Or I would find myself nodding in agreement to everything they said…all the time worrying about what I was agreeing with.
One day an Asian couple came to church and stayed for friendship time. I knew I should go over and talk to them but I didn’t want to do it. I was tired and it just seemed like it would take too much effort. I also remember that little voice in my heart that persistently urged me to go over there. I eventually gave in.
It went as poorly as I expected, but they kept coming back, week after week, and eventually we got used to talking to each other. His name was Jim and he was from China. Of course Jim was not his real name; it was Lu but he used an American name to make people more comfortable. Her name was Kwee-Hee. She was from South Korea. They were an unmarried couple who lived together. He worked as a computer programmer and she was working on a doctorate in social work. Her passion was working with abused Korean women.
We all became great friends. They took us to Chinatown and taught us how to get the very best dim sum. We took them to Lake Geneva on church retreats. I ate my first and only deep fried chicken foot with them. We went over to their house for dinner and they came to ours. Jim would sometimes bring his own food to cook at our house because he thought our food was weird until we stumbled on corned beef and cabbage. They absolutely loved corned beef and cabbage and wanted to eat it every time they came over. The two of them could eat a whole cabbage.
Jim believed that he connected with the spirit God through Qi Gong and other traditional forms of Chinese meditation. He was, however, open to Christianity and loved all forms of prayer. Jim gave us acupressure and herbal medicines to help keep us healthy. He taught us how to quiet our spirits by focusing “the flower in our stomachs” and it dramatically improved my prayer life. We taught him about Jesus and the church and my husband baptized him. He definitely liked the Gospel rock music we played. He was always thoughtful, polite and respectful to everyone.
Kwee-Hee was a very devout Christian. She prayed a lot and spoke in a prayer language (tongues). In a very loud voice. She laid hands on people when they were sick and delivered prophetic words to people to encourage them. She was fearless and would pray with anyone, even people who were violent or psychotic. Her prayers would calm them right down. She was a powerful young woman and a force to be reckoned with. All of the young black girls in the church were crazy about her and she loved them back.
Eventually Jim and Kwee-Hee broke up. Kwee-Hee finished her degree and moved to California to pursue her career. Jim married a Chinese girl and moved to a house in the suburbs. We saw them several years ago and they had two beautiful little boys.
I am so glad I decided to talk to Jim and Kwee-Hee when they came into our church. I’m glad I stuck with it until I got used to their accents. I grew to love them very much and I learned so very much about life and spirituality and Korea and China.
Jesus says that one of the characteristics of God’s people is that they are willing to talk to people who aren’t their friends; pagans are not. One of the Laws of Moses is to love the stranger: “So then, show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). I’m glad we aren’t supposed to be closed minded snobs. I’m glad that Jesus says we can talk to anyone, even our enemies. Even those we don’t agree with or those we don’t approve of. Every religion or no religion. Every nationality, race, age, sexual orientation, political persuasion, lifestyle, prison status, whatever. It’s OK to talk to all of them. It’s not against the rules.
And I’m grateful for that church in Chicago because otherwise I never would have gotten to know Jim and Kwee-Hee. Not a chance. We all need to put ourselves out there and make a little small talk with the many people we encounter during the day. It’s what Jesus wants us to do. It’s what he would do.
What does this scripture say to you?