What exactly is red letter Love? I mean, we all know the great command to Love your neighbor–pretty straight-forward, right? Be kind and Love our neighbor as ourselves.
But it’s who that includes where it gets a bit tricky, because, according to Jesus, our neighbor includes our enemy. He even told the famous a story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate his point.
So, what does Loving your neighbor look like according Jesus? In modern terms, it can look something like finding a beat up, half-dead member of ISIS on the side of the road and stopping, taking him in, bandaging his wounds, and spending your own money to have him cared for. Knowing he is your greatest enemy and showing him Love anyway.
It is a counter-cultural Love. It is not the way of religion or even American Christianity, but the way of the red letters, of self-sacrificial Love. It is a simple concept, but incredibly difficult to live out, especially in our culture of me-first mentality. It means that Loving others takes priority over Loving yourself in every way: over your fears, your time, your hobbies, your money, your career–above all, Love.
And, for the record, “loving” with a goal of converting others is not truly Love. It has a deeper agenda which often, unknowingly, manifests through subtle manipulation. It’s weird, burdensome, and uncomfortable. The underlying motive for Loving others–in the red letter sense–must simply be the goal of attempting to Love like Jesus. Point blank, no ulterior motive or secret agenda. It is the kind of Love that changes something in your soul. It can look small or grand, but either way it’s transformative.
I experienced this sort of Love on the Syrian border where my husband and I went to Love, serve, and learn from our Syrian refugee neighbors. We met many beautiful families, but one family in particular stole my heart.
This family of six graciously welcomed us into their home, which was filed with warmth, joy, kindness, love, and constant smiles. We played and laughed with the four young children as they drew beautiful pictures in my small notebook and giggled at my poor attempts to speak Arabic. Their young son had a joyful smile and wild facial expressions. He reminded me of my own son (my three year old saw a picture of this sweet boy and said “that’s me”); we were instant buddies.
The father drew a hilarious picture of a certain world “leader” and the mother had the most kind and gentle spirit. Her eyes told a story of a journey through horrific circumstances, yet her smile and embrace was that of pure kindness and love.
Like countless other Syrian families, this family lost everything when they fled Syria. They are not allowed to work in Jordan (if they are caught working they are sent back to Syria and a likely death sentence). Their family is scattered around the world and they long to go home, an impossible desire. They have faced and seen the unimaginable with stories that would shatter your heart.
Before we left, the oldest girl, who only had a couple of toys in a small purse, pulled out a green bead and told me she wanted me to have it. She wanted me to have this little treasure of hers. This gift touched my heart like nothing I have ever received. This amazing child had almost nothing, yet she chose to give, simply out of pure Love.
We Americans often struggle to be generous out of our abundance, and this child gave out of the little she had. Her gift was a lesson of true sacrificial Love that we all could learn from.
This family, this little girl, they are the same people our nation is trying to refuse refuge to. We call them terrorists, we refuse our hand when we have all the means (and would be privileged) to welcome them with open arms.
After the hurt and suffering this family has experienced as we have turned our backs, they have every reason and are completely justified to be angry at the world, yet there was not an ounce of bitterness in this household.
The world says I am their enemy and they embraced us with a kindness and warmth I have never experienced, they choose to Love anyways. This beautiful family, this young girl, they are living the red letters and the Love they showed changed my soul.
When Jesus says to Love others, it looks like welcoming strangers–“the other”–into your home with kindness and tea. It means joyfully giving away your treasure out of the Love in your heart, even when you have nothing yourself. It is genuine, it is kind, it is bold, and it has no other motive but pure Love.
This is red letter Love, this is how we change our world.
Photo by Dan Wilkinson.
About Sheri Faye Rosendahl
Sheri Faye Rosendahl is a writer, lover of bold love, the Middle East, Yoga and cookies. Currently Sheri is working on her first book, Not Your White Jesus, which will be out Fall of 2018. You can find more of her writing at NotYourWhiteJesus.org, the HuffPost, or find her on Facebook. Sheri and her husband, Rich, also run a non-profit called The Nations, doing peace and humanitarian work with refugee neighbors from the Middles East, both domestically and abroad.