She showed up on time. And started talking as soon as I said “hi.”
“That ‘annoying person’ exercise was really hard. But not for the reason you might think. I started thinking about my annoying person. And I realized that none of the things that aggravate me about that person really matter. There aren’t any reasons to hate them. So I started thinking, ‘I should probably love them.’ And I realized that I wasn’t sure what to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe my problem with loving enemies isn’t a problem about enemies at all. Maybe I’m not sure what it means to love someone, friend or enemy.”
I waited. She was being pretty honest with herself. And I didn’t want to interrupt.
“So I went back to the story Jesus was telling. It doesn’t start with ‘Love your enemies’. It actually starts with, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ I started thinking about the situation. Jesus was talking to a group of people who had gone regularly to religious training. They heard clear lines drawn about who they were obligated to love. They were obligated to love neighbors. They were, apparently, obligated to not love enemies.
“But doesn’t that teach more about lines than about the nature of love?
I wasn’t sure how to answer her. Sometimes this conversation gets muddy. So I dodged her question. In the way that teachers always dodge questions.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she said. “You aren’t getting away with that. What does Jesus mean when he says ‘love’ here. Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I might need to know.”
I swear. It was almost like she could read my mind. “This is going to sound like I’m avoiding the question again, but what if we look at the text again. In the next sentence, Jesus talks about God loving enemies. What does he say it looks like?”
She looked. “It says that God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on everyone.”
I leaned back. “It’s time to take a break. So what does that mean for those of us who can’t make it rain?”