Of all of Jesus’ teachings, surely one of the most difficult to keep is his command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” There can be no doubt that this would have seemed impossible to do back when Jesus said it two thousand years ago. Yet fast forward to today, in this era of social media and biased news coverage, and it is even more impossible. It is the downfall of the Information Age that we are constantly being bombarded with information, including messages from all directions telling us about who our “enemies” are, and how “those people” are out to harm us, oppress us, or take away our rights. Evidently, this approach is good for ratings, which then encourages more stories that demonize others. The more we consume, the more we are convinced that we need to meet fire with fire and rise up against them. Loving them and praying for them is the farthest thing from our minds.
For those who consider themselves Christians, we need to remind ourselves that following Jesus’ commands is not optional. And lest we be fixated on who our neighbors are versus who our enemies are, we need to remember the story of the Good Samaritan. In that story, a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road. The man, presumably Jewish, is then ignored in his moment of need by both a priest and a Levite – two fellow Jewish men who would have known the Jewish law inside and out, including the exhortation to have mercy on others. A third man, a Samaritan, comes to the aid of the wounded man. This is remarkable because Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people, considered to be enemies who had betrayed God and God’s chosen people.
Jesus points out that the Samaritan man acted as a neighbor to the man in need. The Jewish people would have considered the Samaritan to be the enemy, but the Samaritan man considered the man in need to be his neighbor. Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, we should consider everyone in the world to be our neighbor, even if they consider us to be their enemy. And if they are our neighbors, then we are obligated to love them and pray for them, even when they are doing harm to us.
Loving those who consider us to be their enemy gets easier when we understand that God loved us even when we were in open, perhaps even hostile rebellion against Him. At one time, we were that enemy, yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us so that our sins could be forgiven. God loved us, and then sent the Holy Spirit to abide in us so that we could love beyond our normal human limitations. In the case of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, the indwelling of God empowers us to do what seems impossible.
Yes, there are those who hate us. Yes, there are those who persecute us. Yet God’s desire is that we respond to them not in an earthly manner, but in a manner reflecting our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. To respond with love and prayers may indeed seem impossible, but always remember that, with God, all things are possible.
Peace and Blessings – Pastor Aaron