MATTHEW 5:43-45 (NIV) | “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
For most of us, when we think of the term “enemy”, we imagine someone distant and foreign to our daily lives. Perhaps images of Hitler or ISIS or some other evil person or group come to mind. Jesus’ mandate encompasses these difficult examples, of course, but the Prince of Peace is also referring to something much closer here – something more tangible, more intimate, and something that may require significant sacrifice.
Emotional pain, relational struggle, and various other forms of personal suffering are a part of our experience in life as fallen human beings. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good.” It comes as no surprise that we wound one another from the meeting of two people’s brokenness. Each of us have experienced being the perpetrator as well as the victim in the cycle of sin. Neither of these is God’s intention.
In the midst of these moments, our peace is taken captive by anger, and we exchange kindness for hostility. And here’s the tricky part: For many of us, faithful followers of Jesus that we are, these sad transformations remain hidden beneath the surface. Deep inside, we stir a pot of envy, bitterness, contempt, and animosity toward one another. Because of this, the reality is that we all accumulate a list of enemies in our lives.
If you have ever looked at someone else and felt the sting of anger inside you, have gone to great lengths to avoid contact with someone who has hurt you, or maybe — out of resentment — have closed someone off completely, I would suggest that this person has become your enemy. And our natural response is anything but love.
These situations provide critical decision points in our spiritual journey. We can wave our flag for the kingdom of self, extending a cheap forgiveness to keep up the appearance of being a “good Christian”, while inside we secretly cultivate the treacherous seed of bitterness. And this seed begins to sprout into subtle and destructive vines that weave their way into our lives and relationships.
Or we can choose to live into a new and different kingdom. This is the Kingdom of God, where we hear the scandalous words of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you will be acting as true children of our Father in heaven.”
The eighteenth century saint Therese of Lisieux was familiar with the revolutionary words of Jesus, and from them she developed a rhythm of life known as the “Little Way”. This humble woman devised a deceptively simple approach to following Jesus. In short, to participate in the Little Way meant to befriend those who annoy you, to aid the ungrateful, to extend a move of kindness to the selfish, and to welcome unjust criticisms.
The beauty of the Little Way is how utterly available it is to everyone. From the child to the adult, from the most powerful to the least influential, all can undertake the ministry of small, hidden love. We may think these tiny, trivial acts are hardly worth mentioning, but they can change everything.
When we love our enemy, we participate in an unrecognized conquest over self. We will likely never receive a medal or even a “thank you” for these invisible victories in ordinary life. And yet, somehow, the Little Way becomes the big way in which Jesus identifies the “true children of God” and ignites revolution in our souls.
QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION
- If you are honest, who in your life right now is your enemy? Take a few minutes and brainstorm with the Lord a painful experience you’ve had with someone or perhaps a person who is a challenge for you to love. Think over the course of the past year.
- Ask the Lord, “Lord, how do you see this person? Give me your eyes for them.” Where is the element of good — the humanity, the image of God — in them?
- To the degree you are able, pray a blessing of flourishing on their good with all your heart.
This reading is a part of our "Small Feet Big Shoes" devotional series. You can also sign up to receive these meditations by email.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Jauregui and his wife, Holly, serve with CRM's :Beta: team in San Diego. They help lead a missional apprenticeship community in their neighborhood.