By NEMS Daily Journal
“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 …’”
It seems that almost everyone in contemporary culture wants enemies. Blame falls easily on enemies, especially when they are distant and can’t respond easily or directly.
Enemies become useful for people who will not forgive – or even consider forgiving.
Enemies give everyone an easy reason for getting angry and getting even.
The enemies of what’s called American Christian culture are archetypes of the word: vile, bloodthirsty, tyrannical despots who care nothing for human life except their own and those who agree with them.
For many people it’s deeply satisfying to treat those enemies, and personal ones, as they treat others and wish them great pain, suffering and death.
However, treating enemies as they treat others isn’t the instruction given by Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure, the Christ, in Christianity.
Read his instruction in the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus goes against human nature in telling followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
No normal person would do that, many argue, and that is the point.
Jesus’ instruction is for people who have been fundamentally changed – or are in the process of wrestling with change – to become better than their base instincts and inclinations.
Henri Nouwen, the late priest and author whose reflective literature is a companion along the way for many Christians, illuminates the basic understanding of why praying for enemies and persecutors is the right thing.
In the Lenten booklet “Renewed for Life,” a collection of Nouwen’s meditations, today’s reflections says, “We often wonder what we can do for others, especially for those in great need. It is not a sign of powerlessness when we say: ‘We must pray for one another.’ To pray for one another is, first of all, to acknowledge, in the presence of God, that we belong to each other as children of the same God. … We are brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals. We are children of one God, not partisans of different gods.”
Most people have to swallow hard in acknowledging that everyone stands on level ground – being loved first before there’s any response to love.
Nouwen writes, “To pray, that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the ‘beloved,’ is to learn that that voice excludes no one.”
In another volume, “A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee,” Nouwen offers this prayer for Lent:
“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? … How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die – with you, through you, and in you – and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess. … O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again.”
Fundamental changes of heart are life’s most difficult choices.