When I first heard we were going to be focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, breaking it down by topic, my reaction was oh no, I hope I don’t have to write on the “the Big D”. Luckily, my name fell next to Love For Enemies. May I start off with a big shout out to Holly for her post on “the Big D”. Great job. Not a fun topic, for you, for me, and for a lot of people unfortunately!
As I move on to my topic, Love For Enemies, I can easily relate and have honestly worked diligently on improving my focus over the years. In particular, I had two very telling examples of how to move past the anger, resentment and hatred. Today’s reading gives us good insight into how God expects us to handle our relationships with all people, even if they appear to be enemies. Not easy, but he instructs us:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
As we look at what is written, God is with a crowd of people. He wants to convey a message and to possibly correct some past teachings the Jews may still be following. He tells us not to hate our enemies, but to pray for them just as God does for each and every one of us, as we are all sinners. He shows us two extremes in this teaching: Sun, glorious sun (if we ever see it here in Bloomington?), still rises on those who are good and those who are evil, and the opposite, rain, still falls on good and evil. My interpretation is that is does not matter if you are good or evil, God loves you and we are to be disciples of God, act like God, love our neighbors, and “be perfect”. His statement about “must be perfect” really hit home. No one is perfect, meaning no one is only good without any evil, and therefore we cannot condemn someone who has done evil against us, but must pause and offer pray for them.
In my world, luckily I have only had two “enemies” or people who very much distressed me. It took years for me to overcome the anger and bitterness. It took my minister father sitting down with me on many occasions asking how my forgiveness was coming along, and he would explain how his forgiveness was coming along for this same person. We would talk about how we were going to get to forgiveness first before we moved to “love”. In my lifetime, my dad has never had an enemy, never met a stranger, rarely said a harsh word and is a very kind individual. I was so thankful that he admitted he himself was struggling with my situation. He helped me understand that forgiveness and love for enemies doesn’t happen over night and that is ok. As time progressed, we both came to a point of forgiveness for this person. We prayed for the healing of our “enemy” and now can both talk about the goodness that came out of a deeply distressful situation.
For my second round through this process, I was on my own (although my dad knew about it). As distress hit me hard again, I was in disbelief. How could this individual claim to be my friend and yet be so super deceitful? This person turned into an enemy and wanted to cause me harm. How could she go behind my back? She really wanted to get ahead. Once I started to realize her errant ways, I started to feel sorry for her. That was how she wanted to live her life? I truly prayed for her to return to the person I once knew. I prayed for her to return to her strong faith she once displayed. I also understood it was part of God’s plan for me. In the end, I’m better off in the place I’m in. God was watching over me and I’m happier now. What else can I offer up than thanking God for his goodness and continuing to pray for her?
In both this situations, God worked in interesting ways. First, he gave me the gift of my father’s guidance. Second, he showed me that he doesn’t expect us to always respond in the first five minutes and be perfect, although that would be the best approach. He knows we aren’t perfect. He knows we sin. He knows human nature might take us down the path of anger, bitterness and hurt. However, he loves us, all of us. He expects the same in return for all our friends, neighbors and enemies. Enemies can exist in our lives every day. There are enemies in other countries causing harm here in the US or elsewhere. Political enemies exist and cause havoc to our surroundings. We have to expect we will continue to confront enemies in our lives. We also have to continue to pray for them. Pray for their healing and hope they find God’s word. We must show love.
As I spend one more minute on my personal situations, the other part of my learning is how much easier it is to pray for my enemies than it is to be angry. I had to learn the hard way to just move on, no holding grudges. Anger harms me internally more than it harms them. Flip the situation into prayer. If I start to go down the path of becoming angry over either of these situations, I try to say a quick prayer. I can’t say I’m ready for another deeply distressing situation, however, I am now more prepared for how God expects me to act.
Let us all show some extra love today, even to those who might be difficult to love!