As far as I know, I don’t have any real enemies. By that, I mean there is no one I wish were dead; there is no one I hope doesn’t succeed in life and health; there is no one (I hope!) who wishes me dead.
So when Jesus, in that countercultural sermon on the mount, says that we should love enemies, that doesn’t sound too difficult. I can say I love someone while not really liking that person, right? Avoiding them helps with the illusion that I don’t hate them, and if I don’t hate them, I must love them.
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? [from Matthew 5]
Hmm. Avoidance doesn’t seem to be an option with Jesus. I am required to greet all people, whether I love/like them or not. And if I only love/like the people who love/like me, I’m not being the person I need to be. That’s more difficult than I thought.
Our current political climate has highlighted differences between people and groups, between family members, between friends. It has created animosity where it didn’t exist before. And while I still don’t wish anyone ill, I so strongly disagree with some public statements of politicians and advocacy groups that I haven’t watched the news in weeks.
I feel as though I’m struggling between not-hate, and advocating for what I believe to be biblical imperatives. And there are people who disagree with me who could also write that previous sentence with just as much honesty as I did.
What to do? Well, this blip of a sermonette from Jesus has convicted me to pray. Not just for the things I want to see happen in the areas of justice and peace, but for the people with whom I so deeply disagree.
Praying for them is so much more difficult than not-hating them. Not-hate is passive; prayer is far more active.
I don’t believe for a second that prayer will “change their hearts,” as Christians often say in their prayers about others they are trying to not-hate. But I do believe it will likely change my heart.
When I pray for someone, I start to see that person as I imagine God does: as a flawed human being made in God’s image. Just like me.
Praying won’t make me less convinced of the rightness of justice, but it will help me see the person on the other side as a real person, not as someone I want to defeat. Praying, I think, will make me work harder for justice. It will also likely make my heart a little softer.
For the next week, I’m going to choose one public figure a day—one who I think is really wrong-headed about justice issues—and pray for that person.
I expect I will be changed. Not in my convictions, but in my humanity.
© 2017 Melissa Bane Sevier