By Andrew Krinks
(Vespers, Otter Creek Church, February 23, 2011)
One morning last summer, while pouring shots of espresso at the East Nashville coffee shop where I worked at the time, I noticed a large young man hovering rather awkwardly on the other side of the bar.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“Uhh, are you guys hiring or anything?” His glasses, bound together at the joint with scotch tape, hung on his noise at a near 45-degree angle.
“We’re actually not hiring right now, but you’re welcome to fill out an application if you want, and we’ll keep it on file.”
His mouth hung slightly ajar, he nodded blankly and turned toward the door.
But when I turned my back to the counter a few moments later, I heard the sound that no coffeehouse barista hopes ever to have to hear—the sound of change jangling in the tip jar as it’s ripped from the counter. By the time I turned around, the young man was already out the door, tip jar in hand. I darted out the door after him, shouting as he sprinted down the sidewalk and out of view. But it was too late. There goes about twenty bucks, I thought.
Meanwhile, one of my favorite customers—a psychologist with whom I would often chat about Thomas Merton and homelessness—was getting in her car to go home.
“Do you want me to try and get your money back?” she asked.
I laughed. “Are you kidding? You’re not gonna go after him…?”
But indeed, that was her plan. Warning her to be careful, I headed back into the store to find a new tip jar to replace the old one.
Twenty minutes later, my friend returned—to my surprise—with a wad of cash in her hand. Now my mouth hung ajar.
“Oh, I just drove up and asked him why he took the money.”
“Really? What did he say?”
“He said he hadn’t eaten anything in a couple of days.” After informing the young man that the person he stole from works with homeless people and could probably help him out with some food, he returned the money. “But I gave him a few dollars of it,” she added. “I hope you don’t mind.” After giving him an apple and some bread, she came back to the store and brought me the money.
After I got off work, I drove around the neighborhood looking for the young man, hopeful I might be able to help him as my friend had done, but he was nowhere to be found.
If anyone asks for your tip jar, let him have it. For he probably needs it more than you—and chances are, stealing is the only solution he’s ever known. If you should run after him, let it not be to pay him back with the violence of a word or a fist, but to find out what conditions led him to take the jar in the first place. Is a thief evil? By no means. But an evil world has likely left him with no other option. Therefore, love your enemies and drive around the neighborhood in search of those who steal from you, that you might discover what keeps them from living the life God has ordained for all human beings.
But the story doesn’t end at a coffee shop in East Nashville.
In 2007, Julio Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker who rides the subway every night to his home in the Bronx, stepped off the platform to go to his favorite diner, when he was met by a teenager with a knife. Promptly handing him his wallet, the boy turned to go, but Diaz called after him.
“Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
Confused, his would-be robber asked him, “Why are you doing this?”
Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … you’re more than welcome.” The two shared a meal together and the boy returned the wallet. Then he handed over his knife.
But the story doesn’t end at a diner in the Bronx.
The desert of Egypt. Fourth century. A Christian monk is praying in his cell when a band of robbers tear down the door demanding all of his belongings. Well-trained in the ways of self-denial, the monk responds to his thieves: “My sons, take all that you want.” Surprised, the men gather everything from the cell and head on their way. But before the men get more than a few hundred yards from the cell, the monk comes running behind them, shouting: “My sons, you forgot this bag that I had hidden in the cell. Please, take it!” Embarrassed by their victim’s generosity, the robbers return the items they had stolen, and go on their way.
If anyone wants to take your wallet, give to them your coat also, so they don’t get cold. When you sit down to eat with the one who seeks to empty your house of all its belongings, you will sit at the table of the Lord.
Seventeen-hundred years after the monk shamed his enemies with the upside-down power of love, only a few hundred miles away from there, in the city of Cairo, thousands upon thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of their city to demonstrate against 30 years of oppression, domination, and the power that withholds freedom. One day, after riot police spent hours clashing with protesters, a lone woman stepped forward, her head covered in the traditional Muslim hijab, and got closer to her enemy than traditional Egyptian culture allows between a man and a woman in public. Though he had a helmet, a baton, and tanks to back him up, the old woman held the real power on that street, the power of a kiss for her enemy, her Egyptian brother—a power that, so far, appears to be changing the entire landscape of the nation of Egypt, not to mention the entire Middle East and beyond.
If anyone strikes you on your cheek, turn and kiss him on his cheek. Through the power of your love, he will come to know the shamefulness of his ways.
But the story of nonviolent love does not end in Egypt.
Sure, you might be thinking, this is all fine and good—but surely Jesus didn’t mean for me to actually love my enemies. It’s fine if some people want to live like that, but I just don’t see how it’s reasonable.
All I know is that if one is looking for ‘reasonable’, the way of the cross will surely lead to disappointment.
It has been said that “an enemy is someone whose story you have not heard.” And because enemies help fuel so much of what passes as politics in our world, it is no surprise that we see very little storytelling or listening going on around us. For as soon as I take the time to listen to the one who stands on the other side of the border, on the other side of what I deem acceptable and appropriate—then the power of keeping enemies, the power of violence, begins to lose its luster. And without violence, modern society is in deep trouble.
So, what will it be for those who claim to follow Christ?
Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Or, to put it another way, love your enemies, because the word ‘enemy’ no longer makes any sense in the kingdom of God. Therefore, empty your vocabulary of it. Empty your actions of it. Empty your soul of it. When someone treats you as an enemy, laugh, put out your hand, kiss him on the check. In so doing, you will welcome another child into the glory of a world without end.
Surely, it will be neither reasonable nor easy. So how, then, beyond the grace of God, can we even begin to hope to live in such a way?
Consider, in closing, the words of the Native American grandfather spoken to his grandson not long after the attacks of September 11th: “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, angry, and violent. The other one is loving and compassionate.”
The grandson asked: “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?”
The grandfather answered: “The one I feed.”