Schadenfreund *

hotcoals

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Proverbs 25:15-28, 1 Timothy 6:6-21, Matthew 13:36-43


Schadenfreude is a German word which roughly means “finding joy in the misfortune of others.” It’s not properly used to describe being happy about random misery like starving children or disaster victims – there are other words for that, some of them in English – but reserved for the misfortunes of our enemies, rivals, or people who just plain irritate us. It’s not very Christ-like, but it’s human nature. When we want to think of ourselves as too enlightened for that sort of pettiness, we may call it “poetic justice.”

Proverbs 25:21-22 advises us: “If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on their heads, and the LORD will reward you.”

“What?!” you may be asking yourself. “I can please God and honk off my enemies at the same time?” Technically, yes. Once we’ve nursed a good grudge against someone – be it a person, nation, or rival bowling team – we don’t want them to reveal any redeeming traits, because that really sucks the joy out of hating them. It may even force us to examine our own motives. So loving your enemy (which is how you act toward them, not how you feel about them), while the right thing to do, may be exactly what they don’t want.

But how long is it possible to think of someone as an enemy if they continually show you kindness?  And how long is it possible to think of someone as an enemy if you see them hungry, thirsty, tired, and in need of all the same things you are? Unless one or both of you intentionally stokes those coals of fire, they will cool and vengeful kindness becomes simply … kindness.

By the time Paul quotes this verse from Proverbs in his letter to the Romans, Jesus has taught and shown us what it means to love and pray for our enemies. Revenge masquerades as human justice; God’s justice is about reconciliation and forgiveness, and he’s not above subverting our baser instincts to help us get there.

Comfort: You don’t have to feel good about your enemies to love them as Christ instructs.

Challenge: Examine how you treat your enemies or rivals in the workplace or social situations.

Prayer: Merciful God, teach me to love my enemies and take joy in their well-being. Amen.

Discussion: Where have you seen the healing power of reconciliation? Did one or more parties have to demonstrate worldly “weakness” but faithful strength?

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*not a misspelling; an attempt at a German pun

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