Morning Musing: Matthew 5:43-45

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

One more recommendation for you this morning. This time a show from Netflix that started out on YouTube. This one combines great writing and acting, a terrific story, martial arts, and a heaping dose of nostalgia to make it even sweeter. The language is once again awful and it’s pretty violent, but the picture of redemption we are given along with the power of love over hatred once again shows why the Christian worldview is right and true. Today, let’s talk about why you should watch Cobra Kai.

The 1984 box office hit Karate Kid was and remains one of my all-time favorite movies. I’m not alone in that. It was number five in the box office that year. It’s first sequel did even better. The concept was so successful that it generated not one more, but two more sequels after the first sequel. It even prompted a modern remake which, while not nearly as good as the original, was still a lot of fun. The original achieved the perfect blend of martial arts action, romance, drama, and the prevailing of good over evil. This was combined with an excellent soundtrack. All told, Karate Kid was one of those films that defined a whole generation.

When word came out that YouTube was going to create a new series featuring all the original cast members having new adventures with their own kids, I’ll admit that I was originally skeptical. When you start tinkering with something so classic, the likelihood of making a mess of it runs really high. As a result, I didn’t give it the time of day at first. Also, I’m not signed up for YouTubeTV, so I couldn’t watch it anyway. Then Netflix picked it up and I decided to give it a chance. Wow, am I glad I did! When Lisa and I sat down to watch the first episode, we found ourselves awake at nearly midnight, three hours later, having watched the first five episodes back-to-back-to-back. We quickly burned through the two available seasons. Then, when the third season launched on New Year’s Day, we binged all of those in the span of a week. Now we have to sit around and wait for the fourth season to arrive. What will we do with our lives now?

The story features the two original characters–Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso–played by the original actors, William Zabka and Ralph Macchio. LaRusso, having thrived from Mr. Miyagi lifetime of mentoring, has become a successful businessmen. He and his wife own a chain of car dealerships and are living the high life in Los Angeles, CA. Lawrence, on the other hand, is estranged from his wife, has no relationship with the son who hates him for never showing up, is a borderline alcoholic, and his life is generally a mess. Then history repeats itself with a twist. Lawrence finds himself re-opening his old Kobra Kai dojo and teaching students the karate he once learned.

Eventually LaRusso discovers this as a series of chance encounters bring the two sworn enemies back into each other’s lives. The first season is basically a repeat of the original movie storyline, but with a twist. As Lawrence teaches his students the same lessons he had driven into his head by his old teacher, John Kreese, and see those same lessons play out in real life, he begins to realize that maybe the path those lessons lead down causes more harm than good.

Over the course of the next two seasons, as life continues bringing Lawrence and LaRusso back together, the two begin to see that maybe they aren’t so different after all. A begrudging respect and even friendship begins to blossom as they discover a common enemy in John Kreese who has returned to spread the original Kobra Kai venom into the hearts and minds of a new generation of students.

What we see as the story unfolds is Lawrence discovering how the hatred and anger Kreese beat into his head for so many years may be the thing that left him unable to form and hold relationships. They are largely to blame for the rough shape his life has been in for so long. He does this with the help of one of his original Kobra Kai buddies who has actually become a pastor. And I’ll say that as a pastor, Kobra Kai offers what is perhaps the best depiction of an evangelical pastor I’ve ever seen in anything out of Hollywood. Ever.

The lesson gradually developing in the characters hearts and minds–including LaRusso who wrestles with his own demons as the show develops–is that hating one’s enemies is no way to live. This doesn’t mean they automatically become friends, but the hatred itself will gradually consume you and destroy you from the inside out. This is in direct contrast to the venom of Kreese. One of his students, trying to entice another to join their ranks, explains that the hard things that have happened to her over the course of her life could have made her weak, but by learning to channel her anger into hatred at a focused enemy, it has made her stronger. And yet, her life continues to be a wreck while the lives of the students learning the lesson of mercy and grace continue to improve even in spite of the challenges they still face.

The truth is that while hatred can give us a kind of armor against further pain, it is an armor with spikes sticking in that gradually bleed you out from the inside. What’s more, the spikes are tipped with poison. On the other hand, loving our enemies brings relief from this burden. It is not a path that will necessarily make life immediately easier, but it will lead on a path of life, not death.

The lessons Kreese teaches his students, poisoning their hearts and minds, are obviously wrong in the context of the show. But they aren’t always so easy to spot in real life. They are just as seductive to hearts and minds primed with hurt and anger in real life as they are to the students in the show. The path of love isn’t easy, but it is always better. The path of forgiveness seems like one of weakness, but there is a strength there that no hatred in the world can overcome. In other words, Jesus was right. As usual.

I don’t yet know where the writers will go in season four, but if they continue down the path they have been taking us so far, we will yet see the fruits of redemption come to bear in all their sweetness. That will make for a truly happy ending. They don’t make much mention of Jesus (except when Johnny’s pastor friend makes an appearance which I hope happens more often going forward), but His path is the only one capable of achieving the ends they are pursuing. Let’s make sure we’re walking that path ourselves.

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