When you’re driving late at night without the benefit of lights lining the highways, what do you do? You use your high beam headlights, so you can see more of your surroundings. Common courtesy dictates that we return to our normal headlights when we see a car approaching in the opposite direction. Right? But, have you ever been driving late at night, tired and just wanting to get home, then a car comes from the opposite direction and the driver leaves its headlights on the high beam? It’s annoying; it’s offensive. The light shines directly into your windshield and you squint as the sudden burst of light blinds you to the street and the rest of your environment. As you rely on staring at the right side of the road to keep your bearings, you feel anger rising up in you. You want to respond; you want to turn your high beams back on and blind the other driver coming toward you. You would be justified, after all, because that person is being a jerk!
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told a story of riding late at night with his brother from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee. His brother was driving, and he was sick of people refusing to dim their lights as they approached in the darkness. Out of frustration, his brother said, “I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, I’m going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power.”
Dr. King recounted that he quickly looked at his brother and said, “Oh no, don’t do that. There’d be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody’s got to have some sense on this highway.”
We are faced with decisions such as this every day. We are offended by another person. It may be over something petty or something important, and we have to make a decision about whether we will overlook the offense in love or seek our own victory that, as Dr. King said, will result in mutual destruction to all. Jesus taught that love gives us true victory.
Jesus says that children of God will not only treat others in the common-sense method of the world, by repaying love for love. He also challenges his followers to respond lovingly to those we consider enemies and pray for those who are against us. Consider how the type of actions Jesus commands – that may seem ridiculous in the eyes of the world – ultimately result in the true victory we seek as Christians.
The victory we desire is to benefit ourselves or those whom we love. Right? Jesus says, in Matthew 5:43, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” This verse is not exactly mind-blowing, is it? Why? Because this is what everyone says. Jesus was not speaking figuratively or quoting from passages of scripture when he made this statement. Jesus did not say, “As King David said…” or quote any particular individual, because this is a sentiment we’ve all heard and which comes naturally to us.
Loving our neighbor and hating our enemy is the pattern we expect. It is the pattern of the world. When a person demonstrates love in the face of hate, it makes news headlines, because it is an oddity. Let’s look at the outcome of how this pattern of the world plays out when we choose to respond in kind to those who offend us in some way.
We can find countless examples of people taking action in this manner, but this one story stands out to me. It happened recently, right here in Florida. A man named Michael Drejka pulled up to the front of a convenience store in Clearwater and noticed a car without handicapped stickers sitting in the space marked for handicapped people. He decided to confront Britany Jacobs as she waited in the car with her young children for her boyfriend and their five-year-old son, who were inside the store. The confrontation turned into an argument. The boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, came out of the store and pushed Drejka to the ground. Then, as he turned to walk back into the convenience store, Drejka pulled out a gun and shot McGlockton. McGlockton fled into the store and collapsed in front of his five-year-old son. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
While not all acts of retribution or revenge culminate in death or imprisonment, they do share a bond pattern: offense, response, outcome. We get offended, and maybe rightly so. Michael Drejka responded angrily that a handicapped parking space was being inappropriately occupied. That’s something that has probably offended all of us at some point. We have to park in a space that seems like it’s ten miles away from the front entrance of the grocery store, then maneuver through all the shopping carts and traffic, just to pick up a gallon of milk – then, we see someone who decided to park right up front in a handicapped spot, just so they could avoid the hassle. I’ve wanted to confront that person. The response to the offense seems justified and we hope the outcome will result in our victory, however small it may be.
Markeis McGlockton found out his girlfriend was being yelled at by some strange guy out in the parking lot, so he responded by rushing to her rescue and shoving the man to the ground. Markeis was defending his girlfriend from the man who had offended her. That is something we all would like to think we would do for the person we love.
Drejka was physically hurt. Perhaps he felt like he was in danger. Maybe his ego was bruised, and he was embarrassed. Or, maybe, he just felt like he wanted the final victory in this confrontation. All we know is that he responded by pulling out his gun and taking an action that would end the life of a twenty-eight-year old man who was picking up some items in a convenience store with his five-year-old son.
Michael Drejka is now serving a twenty-year sentence in prison because of his actions that were triggered by offense over a parking space.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Think about these words of wisdom found in Proverbs 14:12 as we consider the worldly pattern of offense, response, and outcome demonstrated by this story. The victory we desire when we follow the pattern of the world results in, as Dr. King would say, mutual destruction for all. Death is the outcome we receive when we seek the type of victory we may desire. There could be times when we feel as if we have achieved some kind of victory, but it never lasts. We know, as followers of Christ, that we are act to differently than just blindly following the pattern of this world. Paul wrote, in Romans 12, that we are to be transformed so that we may be able discern the will of God. When we become Christians, our priorities are to shift. We are to no longer respond to others out of a desire to please ourselves, but out of a desire to follow the will of God in how we treat others. This means we don’t get to seek revenge or react out of offense. Imagine how different the outcome to that story could have been if the initial offense would have simply been overlooked.
Matthew 16:24 records Jesus telling his disciples that those who desire to follow him must “deny [themselves] and take up [their] cross[es] and follow me.” When we overlook an offense and choose to respond in love, then we are imitating Christ. Jesus accepted the punishment of our offense. Instead of seeking retribution, he reconciled us as he extended love through his death. The command of Jesus to love all people, not just our friends and family, comes at a cost. Someone must always bear the weight of an offense that is overlooked. When we choose to forgive an offense, rather than seek revenge, then we deny ourselves and follow Christ. When we respond in love, then we are reconciling in the same manner as Christ did on the cross.
Proverbs 15:1 says, “A kind answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We see this kindness in return for anger demonstrated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s story about driving late at night. How could the story of the fight over the parking space have turned out, if any one of the people involved would have chosen to overlook any one of the offenses that were committed?
What about in the everyday events of your life? What kind of impact could we have in the lives of others, and our world, if we would commit to overlooking offense and extending love? Imagine yourself in various situations in which you may find yourself during the week and think about what it means to deny yourself and take up our crosses when it comes to extending love to your enemies. When the cashier at the grocery store is going agonizingly slow, what would it look like to extend love? When that crazy driver cuts you off in traffic and causes you to slam on your brakes, what would it look like to extend love? When someone gossips or lies about you, what would it look like to extend love? When someone disagrees with you politically, what would it look like to extend love? This isn’t something that comes naturally to us, but it is what Jesus asks of those who follow him.
Jesus said in Matthew 16:24 that those wishing to follow him must first deny ourselves and take up our own cross. When we refuse to seek the victory we desire over another person who has wronged us in some way, then we are denying ourselves. When we choose to extend love, then we are doing the work of taking up our cross. It is through this that we gain the true victory of following Christ in his example and being called the children of God.
 Martin Luther King, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies.” King Institute.Stanford.Edu.
 King, “Loving Your Enemies”
 Jorge L. Ortiz, “Parking-space enforcer in Florida ‘stand your ground’ case sentenced to 20 years in prison.” http://www.usatoday.com https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/10/stand-your-ground-case-parking-lot-killer-florida-gets-20-years/2449313001/
 Romans 5:6-11