It wasn’t even muttered under his breath. The word carried over the sound of a busy Berkeley street, broke through the jackhammers of construction and the noise of commute, and hit me squarely between the eyes. My stereotypically-small, almond-shaped Asian eyes.
I was walking to my birthday dinner, flanked by a few non-Asian friends. Despite a full day of being celebrated and loved, this word thrown out on a whim felt like someone had shoved through the crowd to stab me in the heart. It was a word meant for violence. It was a curse, maybe one that would’ve gone unnoticed by others or even by me in earlier years. But this time I felt it.
And in that moment, I had no empathy for the man whom I had smiled at a second before. No empathy for his bedraggled clothes that carried telltale signs of a weary traveler. No empathy for his frenzied voice shouting at people who walked past him that was a sign of a soul in distress.
All I could think of was how he had managed, in one word, to dehumanize me and make me into a caricature. All I could think of was the fact that people like that cause so much pain and violence in the world.
People like that.
It’s a euphemism, really, for “the enemy.” Whenever we use that phrase, whenever we lump people together and distance ourselves from them, we are trying to make sense of the hurt or fear that we’ve felt from the outside.
So we disassociate. We draw a circle around the cause and stay far away. We prepare speeches and a defense in case it comes for us. When these barriers don’t quite seem like enough, we begin to build an offense too.
To be perfectly honest, I have a list. Not a physical one, but a mental list of the people that have hurt me. And from that, an even longer list of the types of people that may hurt me.
I don’t shout slurs at my enemy. But maybe I cross the street when I see her coming. Maybe I purposefully wait an extra hour or an extra day to respond to his text. Maybe I share what they’ve done to me with others in exchange for empathy and solidarity. Maybe I begrudge their successes and relish in their frustration.
That man’s words followed me, uninvited, to the dinner table that night. And even in the midst of singing and laughter, I found myself resenting him for taking up space at my table.
Which makes me think of another table, where violence and love dined together.
“But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me” (Luke 22:21, NLT).
The enemy was there. Jesus willingly and knowingly dined with the man who would kiss Him one moment and betray Him the next.
The Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes called Spy Wednesday, because it is the day Judas betrays Jesus. It is the day before Judas would partake in the Passover with his rabbi, when his feet would be washed and his hands would grasp the broken bread and the goblet of wine.
“This is My body broken for you. This is My blood poured out for you.” I wonder how those words hit Judas. Did he have a moment of regret? Did he feel the love of his friend in that moment? Did he still see Jesus as his enemy?
Perhaps thirty pieces of silver felt like security. Perhaps money and the goodwill of those in power felt surer than continuing to follow this man who would challenge his every notion of who or what was worthy of saving.
Christianity is an intensely radical idea. Jesus says, in a world that draws lines and pits us against each other, we must sit down at the table where no seat can be earned and partake in a meal that none of us can claim credit for. But this goes against our instincts.
This is the radical picture of Christian thriving. We think Christian thriving is if our churches are growing, our children know their Bible verses, our neighborhoods are safe and our theology is legislated into policies that keep “people like that” in line.
But Jesus has a different idea: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of Me… 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 (Matthew 5:11, 43-45).”
In fact, if someone who you might consider an enemy feels welcome enough to come to your table, then you must be doing something right.
We do not get to decide who to invite. We do not get to decide who belongs at the table. Because if anyone other than God does that, chances are neither you nor I would have been invited.
Hatred and fear are the most contagious diseases our world suffers from. They make us leave the table quickly — quick to act, quick to condemn. Quick to count someone as our enemy.
Are we willing to invite our enemies to the table? Are we willing and brave enough to eat at theirs?
Are we quick to see Judas in others? Or are we quick to confess the same violence that takes place in our own hearts?
Day 4 of 13, “Come Alive: Easter in Everyday Life”