When I get to a new part of Jesus’ teaching, I keep thinking something like this: Now this is one of the most challenging parts of following him.
Turns out, the whole discipleship thing is demanding. If I’m looking for easy, I probably ought to look somewhere else. Jesus doesn’t seem too interested in making things smoother.
So if you want something palatable, you should stop reading now.
Here’s what he said:
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 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. 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, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47).
Pretty much everything I know about organized crime I learned from Hollywood, but even Mafia folks take care of their own people, right? The mobster may torture and murder his enemies, but he’s always good to his mother. (Unless she crosses him, of course.)
Think of whatever group of people that for you epitomize wickedness—in his culture Jesus used tax collectors and pagans—and even those people are good to the ones in their group.
Jesus’ point is clear: If we only love the ones who love us, we’re not doing anything that atheists and unbelievers don’t already do. And by “love,” Jesus isn’t talking about an emotion. He’s telling us to act in the best interests of our enemies.
He also tells us to “greet” our enemies, and he’s not saying we’ve satisfied our obligation when we mutter “hello” to the unlikable co-worker or wave toward the grumpy neighbor. “Greet” means to extend heartfelt “expressions of desire for the other person’s welfare” (Blomberg, quoting Gundry).
If I’m reading this right, Jesus is saying that our commitment to him isn’t measured best by how we treat friends and family. After all, what kind of loser is mean to his mother?
He’s telling us to do what would be unthinkable to an unbeliever—to extend his love to people who don’t like us and who mistreat us.
So here’s a discipline for today: Think of an enemy . . . someone who for whatever reason has decided to take advantage of or mistreat you or someone in your family.
Pray for him or her. Hard. Without gritting your teeth.
Or at least without really gritting them.
At first you probably won’t really mean what you say, but ask God to change your heart. Ask him to help you love that person. Ask him to give you an opportunity this week to extend toward him something he absolutely doesn’t deserve—the love of Jesus. It’s probably worth pointing out that Jesus gives us grace even though we don’t deserve it.
It might be the hardest thing you do this week, but scratching the backs of those who scratch ours . . . pretty much everybody already does that.