I grew up with cats. They are such strange creatures. I remember on many occasions watching them and wanting to know what was going through their strange little brains. Every one of those times, I walked away shrugging my shoulders, determining that they were just too simple-minded for me to grasp why they do what they do. In fact, I’m sure that even if they knew the English language, they would not be able to put together a coherent thought to help me understand them better. However, I recognize now that cats know exactly what they’re doing.
I remember one of my childhood cats flipping toys up and over her back. I had always assumed that she was imitating how she might catch a bird that was looking for food along the ground. On the contrary, feline researchers have determined that this is not the case by mapping out consistent behaviors across the different kinds of cats. They have found their playful tactics displayed three different attack strategies.
The “mouse” strategy was described as a “stalk, pounce, grab with front claws, and bite” approach. The true “bird” strategy looks like a “stalk, leap up with front paws swinging, and bite” approach. Finally, the third strategy is what I remember witnessing as a kid. Our cat would reach under the toy, flip it over her back, and then pounce for the final blow. The researchers call this a “fish” pattern. Like bears, cats instinctually know how to stand on a bank of water, surprise a stray fish by flipping it backward and then pouncing where they have the benefit of dry and stable ground.
Isn’t that interesting? However, I don’t just share this because it’s a random bit of trivia. I share it because, even as a child, it was second-nature to demean this thing I did not understand as “beyond reason” or “too simple-minded.” The illustration is not actually about the cats, but about my own Pharisaical predisposition to judge what I did not understand.
This mentality made a very unfortunate resurgence later in my life. As I found myself, a young man fresh out of high school, I became very extreme about my religious and political beliefs. I would find people who disagreed with me, in my infinite wisdom, and would immediately degrade them like I would with my childhood cats. I would assume without having spoken a word with them that they were “beyond reason” or “too simple-minded to be understood” and I would spend my life ranting and raving about how folks believe what they do and live like they are. I was realizing that I had far more in common with Simon the Zealot, before he began following Jesus, than Jesus Himself.
But when we read passage likes Matthew 5:43-48, we see the power behind the Gospel and what makes Jesus so unique. When other rulers and kings throughout history, and even gods in literature, would create factions and establish tribalistic power, Jesus taught that His followers had “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, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
There is something incredible about our God who commands His people to love our enemies just as He does. He teaches that we would become perfect – just as He is perfect – if we could imitate Him in this way. After all, the Gospel is only relevant to any of us because it shattered our trajectory in sin with the shocking revelation that love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are given to each of us, even the most offensive of opposition (Romans 5:7-10). That is what led the Son of God to the cross. Every one of us, being sinners (Romans 3:23) and worthy of death (Romans 6:23), were in opposition to God until He purchased our souls with His blood (Acts 20:28) – because of His love (John 3:16). And that is why we endeavor daily to love our opposition, knowing that we cannot do so to the level that Christ did, and yet we strive to all the same.
Jesus is teaching me through a long and continuing process that He desires for me to love my enemies. He desires that I love those that mock me, or even persecute me, should we ever arrive to that point. He desires that I bless my opposition just as He does when He causes the sun to rise and rain to fall on even the most abusive God-haters. He desires that I love even the tax collectors, those who take advantage, like I love my brothers and sisters. Again, if I could do this perfectly, then I would not need a Savior, but I glorify Him every moment that I take part in this mission of His.
There will always be people I come in contact with who hold beliefs and mentalities that oppose God’s will and the Scriptures, but I find God’s mission in the fact that no one is unredeemable or too simple-minded. Their conclusions about life usually make a lot of sense within their worldviews and perspectives. The work then becomes holding these worldviews and perspectives up to the perfect will of God and seeking ways to lovingly show that only He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
In this realization, my faith has changed from something to be weaponized to something that motivates evangelism and because of it, I now have a form of repentance that has not only helped me love others, but has also helped me grasp His love for me unlike I ever have before.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff