When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. (Isaiah 53:11–12 NLT)
It was at a 1993 party in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Mary Johnson’s world collapsed: her only son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot and killed during an argument. Ultimately, O’shea Israel was arrested and confessed to Laramiun’s murder. At sixteen years old, O’shea was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.
Twelve years into O’shea’s sentence, Mary went to visit him. It was during this interaction that she finally understood what Jesus meant when he called us to love and forgive those who wrong us. Her understanding went from knowledge – orthodoxy – to actually putting it into practice – orthopraxy. She said, “I can honestly say that from the moment I walked in the room, the energy level was, like, peaceful.”
After serving only fifteen years of his sentence, O’shea was released from prison. Mary welcomed him into her life with open arms, beginning with throwing him a homecoming party and leading to them becoming next door neighbors. O’shea has become like another son to Mary, and Mary like his mother. O’shea said, “She worries about me even when I’m not worried about myself. And that is something a mother does.” Their relationship has ultimately been healing for both of them.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43–45 that it is only when we love our enemies that we are acting as true children of our Father in heaven. Loving our neighbors is good and right, but God calls us, his children, into something much more radical. Loving others in the general sense is not the identifier of our relationship with God; to be known as children of God, we must love those who despise us. After all, Jesus loved us when we stood in opposition to him, so to follow his example is to love our enemies.
Jesus knew the anguish and, ultimately, death that came with his decision to take on flesh and bone and walk among us, but he still chose this more difficult path because it was the only way for us to be counted as righteous.
What level of love are you practicing – neighborly love or enemy love? Maybe neither? Like Mary Johnson going to visit her son’s killer in prison, what steps might you be able to take to bring your level of love for others from knowledge to the practical, from orthodoxy to orthopraxy?