You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV)
Jesus is telling us to love, greet, and pray for everyone, including our enemies. His lesson is one that can be quite difficult to follow. Do you ever want to say to Jesus, “Don’t make me do this!”?
I imagine we can all remember times when we were excited about going out with friends- until we learned that someone else would also be coming along, someone we would rather not see. There are people we would just rather avoid altogether. In fact, a few years ago I joined a monthly dinner group, but then was chagrined to learn that someone else would also be part of our gathering. My enthusiasm waned- until I went to the first dinner and found that she had switched groups! The feeling must have been mutual! 😉
I see two important reasons why Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them. First, as his followers, we are called to be his example for the world. We are to be light and love for others, because they are as beloved by God as we are. As Jesus describes, God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on all of us. Every person is equally beloved by God. (In some cases it is necessary to have space from those who would cause harm, those who are hateful or threatening to us. We are still to pray for them, forgive them, and refrain from retaliation, while entrusting them to God.)
Also, in loving our enemies and praying for them, we become better people. Our lives will become richer and more joyful as we learn to live free from hatred, envy, judgment, or hardness of heart. Doing the difficult things also opens a way for us to grow- in our reliance on God, in our gentleness, kindness, humility and forgiveness, and as less bitter and vengeful people.
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus asks, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?”
Does someone in particular come to mind as you read his questions? Can you begin loving your enemies by praying for them? Can you begin loving your enemies by praying for yourself? What bitterness might you need to release? How might you grow and learn today? What would Jesus want you to know?
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?
When I discover helpful practices for these challenging days, I like to share them with you. Years ago, my friend Nancy introduced me to the Jesuit Pray as You Go app. Each day there are short meditations with beautiful music and scripture readings. Also, Jim showed me another app, God in All Things, also part of Ignation Spirituality. I have found these to be rich blessings for these times. I listen to the daily reflections as I walk, and I come away feeling renewed, strengthened, centered, and peaceful. You may want to give them a try.)