Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (NRSV)
My husband Solomon and I have been living in Germany for many years as expatriates. I am British and Solomon is Nigerian. We are well integrated with the traditions and social intricacies of the German culture, and we speak the language fluently.
In the past few years, I have become increasingly concerned about the growing presence of xenophobia in Germany. A few months ago, my husband was personally confronted with racial prejudice.
Solomon was entering a train, when a young man stepped forward and barred his progress. He looked angry, and his hands were balled into tight fists.
"Hey, you, foreigner," the young man said gruffly. "Go back to your own country, and stop taking our jobs!"
Solomon was sorely tempted just to ignore the man. However, he saw that his persecutor was pale, gaunt, and poorly dressed. This individual had clearly gone through some hard times. Solomon felt sorry for him.
Smiling at the man, Solomon replied, "I can see that you're angry. But I am not your enemy."
Taking advantage of the man's shocked silence, Solomon continued, "Anger and resentment are costing you your health. Turn those negative emotions into positive thoughts that can change your mindset and ultimately your life."
Suddenly, the man's mask of bravado evaporated. He admitted to Solomon that he was unemployed and living below the existence minimum. Out of frustration, he had joined a right-wing political party that cultivated animosity towards foreigners by targeting them as the cause for the country's socio-economic problems.
Later, when they both disembarked from the train, Solomon told the young man about how a relationship with God and an application of thinking positively had changed his life around, and he wrote down the title of a book on the subject that could change his life, too.
The young man took the piece of paper from Solomon eagerly, promising to read the book. Gone was the former anger and bitterness; instead, the young man's face was now full of hope and encouragement.
What if my husband had perceived this act of persecution as a threat and not as an opportunity to share God's love and to set someone on the path towards a relationship with Jesus?
In today's verse, Paul writes that we should bless those who persecute us. The next time someone mistreats us, let us try to react to them as Christ would — with love and forgiveness. From personal experience, I know that it's not always easy, but it is worth striving for, in order to further God's kingdom on earth.
Prayer: Wonderful Father, You tell us in that we are not to be surprised when persecution comes (1 Peter 4:12). Help us to react with love to those who mistreat us, for You opened out Your arms to give us Your redeeming love when our transgressions had made us Your enemy. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
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