Romans 12:16-18 – Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (NRSV)
One hot, humid day in Florida, as I returned from a long walk tired and thirsty, I swung open the front patio gate and discovered that I had a "guard snake" protecting the entrance to my front door. Being a fairly new winter resident, I wasn't well acquainted with the various species of snake dwelling in and around our region. I suspected that it was probably harmless, but I wanted it to find another door to guard.
To encourage its departure or scare it away, I began to hiss and lunge at it. It immediately coiled its two-to-three-foot body, raised its head, and hissed back at me in return.
Next, I reached for some garden mulch to throw at it. It slithered forward in attack mode. I searched for something bigger and heavier with which to scare it and make it go away.
I tossed sticks, stones, and even a brick at it. Each time I "raised the stakes", it escalated its response to the threat.
Finally, I tried walking away, but kept the gate open wide so that I could see where it went. It remained in place. Stalemate!
I remembered that the screen door to the lanai at the back of our condo wasn't locked, so I was able to sit in the shade, even if I couldn't enter my home.
As I sat there cooling off, literally and figuratively, I thought of Paul's words of instruction and challenge in today's passage, to "live in harmony with one another" and "so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
That led me to think on how often careless words and hostile threats disrupt the harmony in our relationships with one another. How often, instead of retreating to "let the dust settle", we insist on our own way. How often we respond to a perceived threat or insult with aggression that only serves to heighten tensions.
As I looked at the situation from the snake's point of view, I saw that I had left it no room to manoeuvre, no place to hide.
With new insight, I returned to the front of the condo and discovered the path to my front door free and clear of any obstacle. All that the snake wanted was to enjoy a little warmth and sunshine and to be left in peace. All that I had to do was to give it room to breathe and a safe retreat from danger.
Point to ponder: What might I do, as far as it depends on me, to live peaceably with all my neighbours and with those whose points of view may differ from mine?
Prayer: Loving God, help us to be slow to anger and aggression and quick to dismantle barriers of fear and suspicion, that we may live in harmony with one another. In Christ's name, we pray. Amen.
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