“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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The most radical call to love Jesus made was the call to love our enemies. We all have people in our lives that have hurt or wronged us in some way. And Jesus calls us to love and bless these very people. He doesn’t call us to ignore them and move on or even tolerate them. He calls us to love and pray for them. How is this possible? The only way I have found is to seek to understand them. Every convict, punk, thug, terrorist, racist, extremist, and fundamentalist has a history and a context that has led to their behavior. Of course, this doesn’t make what they did okay, but understanding their story can change our hearts toward them. My heart grows in its ability to seek this understanding as I grow in compassion and as I pray. Perhaps this is why Jesus followed his statements about loving our enemies with instructions about caring for the poor and what has come to be known as the “Our Father” or “the Lord’s Prayer.”
Who is your enemy? (Say the name; it’s the first step toward understanding and love.) Can you say a prayer for that person right now? (It can be as simple as, “God, I don’t like them, but I’m willing to be changed.”)
As you think about the person you identified in response to the question above, what would you like to know about their past, the pain they’ve experienced in their life, or their current circumstances? What would be one step to begin to learn more about that person’s story?
How are you engaging with people in poverty? How often are you serving them in some way? What has God taught you, transformed in you, or healed in you? If you aren’t serving the poor, how can you do so in your community?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Amen.