“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In this passage Jesus flips a common saying from that day on its head.
People would commonly splice the Old Testament command to “love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18) with a vengeful phrase: “. . . and hate your enemy.” The people typically considered anyone from another nation as an enemy.
And they were probably stunned to hear Jesus say, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
What’s radical about Jesus’ demand is that it’s not just aiming for “peaceful coexistence,” “live and let live,” or “let bygones be bygones.” He’s commanding proactive, practical love. We are commanded to love our enemies and to seek the best for them—not just so that they will leave us alone.
An important part of loving our enemies, Jesus says, includes praying for them. Frankly, it’s impossible to keep hating someone if we’re praying for their good. Praying for our enemies helps us to see them as God sees them. It helps us to begin to care about their needs and treat them like a neighbor.
Unfortunately, we all have antagonists of one sort or another. Jesus himself calls us to love those people and to pray for them and for their well-being. After all, that’s what he did for us. “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
Father, we were your enemies, but now, in Jesus, we are your children. Help us to pray for and to love our enemies. Amen.
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