"You have heard that is 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 the 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 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?"
- Jesus (Matthew 5:43-47)
It not easy, living out this command. Is it? How in the world are we supposed to love those whose hate us? Those who live to destroy us? Those who have a total disregard for our safety? Those who oppose us at every turn? Surely we don't have to pray for them!
I've written about a similar topic a few times before, mainly about people who offend us or wrong us over and over. About how often we are expected to forgive them. Are there limits to forgiveness? That's the question addressed, for example, in this post.
But the question on my mind tonight goes deeper. How about those who despise us with a white hot hatred? Love them? Pray for them?
Herod, who killed children trying to eliminate the King of the Jews while he was still a baby. Joseph Stalin. Adolf Hitler. Osama bin Ladin.
And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Yes, in a Boston hospital lies a man who has done unspeakable harm to our innocent people. He is murderer and a terrorist. He has damaged our national psyche.
So how would you feel if he repented? If he were overcome with the love and mercy of Jesus and surrendered himself to the one true God? If, because of this, you met him in the coming Kingdom as your brother?
Could you handle that? It's not easy to think about. Unimaginable.
Let's go a step further: Can you actually pray for it to happen?
That's the kind of radical love and forgiveness that Jesus proposes in the above passage. The way we can know that we are his follower is that we can - through his power - love like he does. Anybody can love those who treat them well. Anybody! But only someone with the power of the resurrection living inside of them can love their enemies. That's the benchmark.
Jonah faced this dilemma. He was called by God to preach to the wicked town of Nineveh. He ran from it because he didn't want them to repent. Sound familiar? After a little incident with a huge fish, he finally obeyed God and preached to them. And his greatest fear was realized - they listened! And here's what he prayed to the LORD:
"Isn't this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? This is what I was trying to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." (Jonah 4:2-3)Wow! He is really ticked off that God forgave his enemies.
Again, I can identify. Because I don't have the power to love my enemies. But the Messiah's power inside me does. And that's why I have to lean on him.
It's not easy. And there's nothing wrong with wanting justice to run it's course. But that's not my job. My job is to love, forgive, and pray. Pray for my enemies. Pray for them to come to a knowledge of the truth. Jesus said so...and by his power we can do it.