From Lighting Candles in the Dark: Stories of Courage and Love in Action (Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, 2001). Used by permission.
A family had all heard a story recently in church that included a verse from the bible that read, "If your enemy is hungry, feed them." It was a confusing idea—be nice to your enemies, treat evil with good. And it seemed a really hard thing to do.
The children who were seven and ten were especially puzzled. "Why feed your enemy?" they wondered.
The parents wondered too.
Day after day, John Jr. came home from school complaining about a classmate who sat behind him in fourth grade. "Bob keeps jabbing me when Mrs. Bailey isn't looking. One of these days when we're out of the playground, I am going to jab him right back—at least."
His parents weren't too happy either, thinking that Bob was really a brat! Besides, they thought the teacher should be doing a better job with kids in the class. The parents sat at the table wondering what they were going to do when John's seven-year-old sister, Amelia, spoke up: "Maybe he should feed Bob."
Everyone stopped eating and stared, with John Jr. asking, "Because he is my enemy?" His sister nodded.
We all looked at each other quickly, clearly uncomfortable with thinking of Bob as an enemy. It didn't seem as if an enemy could be in the fourth grade. An enemy was someone far off in another country, a grown-up.
John looked at us and asked, "What do you think?"
"Well," his parents said, "God said it, so maybe you should try it. Do you know what Bob likes to eat? If you are going to feed him, you may as well feed him something he likes."
Amelia asked, "Does he like goldfish?" which was her favorite snack.
"How about cookies?" his mother who loved to bake asked.
"Maybe, but he can get cookies anywhere," John answered.
Everyone was quiet.
"Jelly beans!" he shouted. "Bob just loves jelly beans."
So John bought a bag of jelly beans to take to school. We would see whether or not enemy feeding worked.
The next day, sure enough Bob jabbed John in the back. John turned around and slapped the bag of jelly beans on his enemy's desk.
When the bus dropped John off at home, his mom was waiting for him. He got off the bus yelling, "It worked, it worked!"
"After he jabbed me, I gave him the jelly beans. He was so surprised he didn't say anything—he just took them. But he didn't jab me the rest of the day."
Or the next day. Or the next. In fact, John became good friends with Bob, all because of a little bag of jelly beans. John also realized that Bob was never really his enemy. He was just someone John didn't know. He was just someone who needed John to show him friendship.
Maybe people whom we think of as enemies are just hungry; maybe not for food, but for acts of kindness. Maybe. I think so. What do you think?