“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…” – Matthew 5:44 (Common English Bible)
When Jimmy (we’ll call him Jimmy) was ushered in to our fourth grade class in the newly remodeled parish hall, I cringed. Don’t ask me what our lesson was that day, or any other for that matter. I remember that my friend Eric’s folks, Carl and Margaret Johnson, were our teachers, as usual.
I cringed. I’m pretty sure it showed on my face and Jimmy could see it. I really disliked Jimmy. I was kind of scared of him, too. It started way back in first grade. We arrived in Walla Walla in the middle of my first grade year. On our first day of walking to Green Park School, Jimmy and his brother pelted Lynn and me with horse chestnuts as we walked past their house. I saw Jimmy as a bully. I feared him as an enemy, from that day on, until fourth grade.
I knew that Jimmy’s mother had been ill for a long time. I overheard a teacher ask him and sympathize with him one day on the school playground.
So, when he came to Sunday School I was sure I didn’t want him to be there, and tried to figure out a way to make him so uncomfortable he’d never return. But something else happened. I think maybe Mrs. Johnson had something to do with it.
I knew that Jimmy’s mother had recently died of cancer, but I still didn’t like him. That day in Sunday School I became aware that the church had reached out to the grieving family. So here was Jimmy. Oh, no.
I wish I could remember more details. What actually happened that let Jesus’ command penetrate my grade school brain? I don’t know. What I do know is that over the next few weeks, Jimmy and I could often be found in Jimmy’s kitchen after school making milk shakes and a mess. And a memory, with the realization that the bully was just a little first grader whose mom was becoming less available to her children and a dad in a busy profession was trying to deal with these changes, too. A memory that the church reached out where there was need, and I’m sure it wasn’t only my dad.
I also know that it has happened hundreds of times in their 150 years and will happen hundreds of times more. It happens in all times and places, wherever neighbors are loved just because, and whenever we look beneath the moment to the circumstances and enemies become neighbors.