Have you ever thought about what Jesus's command to love enemies and pray for persecutors is all about? It's a tough passage of scripture. (Matthew 5: 38-48) It's almost counterintuitive or at least countercultural.
It's easy to hate. Just look at the world around us. Go to the middle east and witness what centuries old patterns of hate and an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth have wrought. Read the the stories of the violence recently in Chicago. Over what? A corner. A grudge that had to be avenged. A misspoken word. Turn on a talk radio show and listen to the unreasonable ranting and raving and you wonder if there's any sanity left in this world. Watch the political ads and if you don’t cringe when you hear the attack dogs barking …well, something is wrong. There is an appalling lack of impulse control these days.
And often, we as Christians are right in the mix.
I once worked at a bible church and received a call from someone who knew I had grown up Roman Catholic. "Hey, Mike, we're staring a group for ex Catholics and wanted to see if you'd like to attend?" I said, "Sure, but you need to know something. I'm not angry. I thank God for my upbringing and for the men and women who helped shape me." "Oh," the person said. "Well maybe this group wouldn't be for you."
We like to pick sides, choose teams, argue and debate. And much of that is so healthy. But I'm convinced that the rapid demise of civility is the result of us not desiring to love in the radical way of Jesus. And so what we do instead is marginalize those who are different and/or difficult and label them our enemy.
This loving our enemy stuff doesn't mean that we don't have disagreement and even vigorous debate around culture and moral issues. It doesn't mean we become a doormat. It does means that in the midst of the heat of the battle we are to bear in mind that Jesus calls us to a higher standard and that's to love our enemy and to pray for those who persecute us. To see all people as having worth because they are made in the image and likeness of God.
Jesus, in scripture, tells the Jews to suffer the humiliation of being forced by a Roman to carry his gear for one mile (a law by the way) and to offer to take the gear another mile yet.Why? One commentator says that by "offering to go a second mile you'd be saying that you can't insult me because my life is secure in the beautiful kingdom of God. And so, let me give you a taste of God 's amazing grace. Let me carry your burden one more mile."
And therein lies the secret. We can love our enemies and pray for our persecutors only as a response to what God is doing in our lives. And even then, I do admit, it can be a difficult road to travel.
We live in a world desperately in need of extravagant love. Martin Luther King Jr. once said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. "
This is an important word for us at this time in our history. We've got to quit hating and we've got to stand up to the haters. We gotta quite believing that our hate will solve problems. Perhaps we should follow the advice of a British pundit who said ..."Perhaps the only people we should try to get even with are the ones who have done us good."
Love builds the bridge. Nothing else. Love. Period. Love is a process and always a decision. It's a decision to look long and hard enough to see the image of God in a person. It's a decision to move towards them, often starting with prayer.
Hate locks us a prison of bitterness and revenge. Love frees us. To often we can find ourselves in ugly battles with people …always analyzing who’s up and who’s down, always seeking the upper hand, analyzing every slight …that’s no way to live. And Jesus offers a way out of that …love. And then he makes a striking promise …When you love even your enemies …then you will be known as my sons and daughters.