Not too long ago, writer and activist Wendell Berry mentioned having a friendly conversation with Trump voters at his local farm-supply store in Port Royal, Kentucky. He explained that this type of cordial behavior is required in a small town: “If two neighbors know that they may seriously disagree, but that either of them, given even a small change of circumstances, may desperately need the other, should they not keep between them a sort of pre-paid forgiveness? They ought to keep it ready to hand, like a fire extinguisher.”
As human beings, we’re all connected and we need to rely on one another. So we can certainly find a good number of ordinary things we have in common. It’s possible to have a civil conversation with anyone. We can talk about the weather, sports events, family milestones, and other everyday subjects.
But it goes deeper than that. I like Berry’s expression, “pre-paid forgiveness.” How do we do that — staying at the ready to extend pardon “like a fire extinguisher”? This practice is needed, now more than ever — not just with our neighbors with whom we may disagree, but — in everything we do, everywhere we go, including our interactions with family members and friends, as well as strangers.
This reminds me of a biblical phrase that I’ve always found puzzling: Jesus said, “agree with thine adversary quickly” (Matthew 5:25).
What does that mean? What if someone really is your adversary — your foe, the opposition, your actual enemy? How can there be any agreement there? Jesus even advised us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). How can that possibly work?
The word Jesus used as adversary is likely the Hebrew (and Aramaic) word satan (שטן) — which is not a big red dude with horns! It simply means “accuser,” “adversary” or “opponent.” The Greek word antidikos (ἀντίδικος) has the same meaning. Basically, satan is “a naysayer.”
One Bible translation (The Message) puts it this way: “Say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him.”
But how in the world could we possibly agree?