When we read the verse, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk 12:31), it's easy to feel fairly confident. We know we are pretty nice people, we don't really have malicious intentions, and we do good things for others. However, in Matthew 5:44 Jesus tells us, "You have heard it 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 . . ."
Love your enemies. Personally, I feel a little less confident when it comes to loving my enemies. How do I love ISIS? How do I love political figures with whom I disagree? How do I love people who simply don't like me and always seem to cut me down? How do I pray for those persecuting me without still kind of hating them through it?
Jesus' command to love our enemies comes during his Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7. If we read it from beginning to end, we notice he is authoritatively challenging people's conventional thought on different topics. More than once Jesus tells them, "You have heard it said [insert popular idea]. But I say to you . . ." For two chapters, he establishes a truly counter-cultural understanding of how to live, how to follow God, how to live out the commandments, and how to treat our enemies. Ultimately he teaches us how to love.
So what do we do in a situation as extreme as the world conflict in the Middle East? We probably do not have a direct influence on ISIS. We haven't met them, we don't know them, and all we see is the news. In this case, it's important for us to earnestly pray and to remember that they are also human. They are sinners like you and me. If we find ourselves filled with hate for these people, we must go to confession and repent of it, pray for their conversion, and believe that God's mercy is greater than we can imagine. We must desire and hope that they receive salvation by God's grace, even if it's in the last split second before death.
But what about other areas of our lives? Who else do we encounter and treat as "enemies?" We have much more influence over those closest to us, and it can be both positive and negative. Whether they are our spouse, children, friends, coworkers, strangers, other drivers on the road, etc. we often assume the worst during disagreements or conflicts. We assume we know their intentions, and more often than not, we assume they are negative. We are so unforgiving of others, but so forgiving of ourselves . . . We know that when we didn't take out the trash, it was because we had a lot on our minds and simply forgot. But when a family member forgets to do the dishes, it's definitely because he is lazy and doesn't care about having a clean house as much as we do.
In instances like these, we are showing more love and understanding to ourselves than those around us. It's ok to forgive ourselves in this way, but we pridefully wield a double-edged sword unless we show compassion and mercy to others. What about our families? Our coworkers? The person who just cut us off? For example, it is possible that he really didn't see us in our lane. He could be rushing to the hospital because his wife just had a heart attack in the middle of the day. Would our response to his driving change? Sometimes the person really is visibly mean or careless, but even then it's still more important to ask the Lord to give him whatever grace he needs than to get upset over his actions.
So let us rethink the way we approach world conflicts, political battles within our country, and conversations and thoughts about those who we interact with regularly. Instead of quickly brushing over it, let us spend time really thinking and praying about how we are falling short in loving others as ourselves, and how we can improve.
How is God speaking to you in this post or today's readings? Enter a comment below or click HERE if you are reading from your phone. (commenting is optional, but always grace-filled. Thank you for letting us into your life and for being a part of ours!)