How to love your enemies
How do we seek reconciliation unless we have learned to love deeply?
This is what Jesus teaches next.
“You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his 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? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?
Jesus makes enemy love the touchstone of love. He commands us to treat others the way God treats us.
We usually don’t find it too difficult to love people who are kind and good to us. It is one thing to love those who are in need; even those who unintentionally hurt us. But our enemies who are mean-spirited, who plan and plot against us, who cause us great pain and suffering?
We draw the line on who to love long before we get to enemies.
How do we exercise enemy love?
First, pray for them. One pastor suggests that this is often the only realistic possibility of love that we have. It takes both the command to love and the enemy serious.
It is important to note that Jesus does not teach us to pray about our enemies. There are plenty examples in the ancient and modern world of prayers about our enemies; angry prayers in which people ask God to punish their enemies.
Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies, to stand in their place before God and intercede for them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “If we pray for them, we are taking their distress and poverty, their guilt and perdition upon ourselves, and plead to God for them. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves.”
I would add that we pray for our enemies the way we would pray for ourselves.
Jesus’ second example: greet them.
Properly greeting one another is important. It comes natural to greet our family, friends, neighbours, and others we know, like, and do business with. We greet them warmly and enthusiastically.
But what about our enemies? Jesus says, greet them too.
Lest we miss the significance of this teaching, remember that people in biblical times greeted each other with a warm hug and a kiss, blessing each other with the words “shalom” (peace) or “shalom aleichem” (peace be upon you).
The New Testament version is “grace and peace to you”.
Jesus commands a warm, congenial greeting that comes from the heart, “shalom”. Contained in it is a prayer for peace and wholeness, wishing our enemies the very best, treating them as brothers or sisters.
We bless them generously even if they ignore us or refuse to greet us; even if they plan and plot against us.
We extend this to everyone without discrimination.
In this way, we overcome evil with good.
Gerard Booy is pastor of Haney Presbyterian Church.