“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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” -Matthew 5:44-47
Last night I read the passage listed above, and I actually took the time to think about it. I’ve read it before, but usually I process it at surface level and move on. The term ‘enemies’ has always seemed so broad to me, and even though I understood what this passage was saying, I never really applied it in my own life.
So this time I did something differently: I read the passage, and then I pulled out one of my journals and started writing a list of everyone I would consider an enemy. My goodness, was it humbling. I don’t think I will ever be able to get past the word ‘enemy’ in the Bible again without flinching, and I wasn’t even able to create a complete list.
When I’m totally honest with myself, my list of enemies is huge and appalling. The range is so broad; it encompasses everyone from jihadists to Planned Parenthood advocates to the people from broken relationships in my life. I realized as several names of Iowa State House Democrats came to mind that I tend to let my passion for conservative stances put many on the liberal left on my enemies list as well.
As someone who gets along with people fairly well for the most part, this was an extremely humbling exercise. Something else that stood out to me was that I tend to see people not as individuals, but as their group, what they stand for. I boil it down to the fact that they’re a liberal, a Planned Parenthood advocate, a terrorist, etc. Even when people are listed by name, I think of them as what they have done: they’re the person who made my life miserable, broke off a friendship, the one I used to date.
Ignite, the conference my church hosts each year, was this past weekend, and one of the keynotes was one of my top five favorite speakers, Eric Samuel Timm. God has definitely anointed him to point things out in my life, because every time I hear him speak, it’s as if God is opening my eyes to something in my life I didn’t even know was a problem, somewhere that desperately needs to be redeemed. Eric was talking about Zacchaeus, and he convicted me on this issue of loving my enemies before I even cracked open Matthew 5.
You see, Jesus called Zacchaeus out by name. Our names are powerful things; to not use them is dehumanizing. He started talking about the all too familiar scene on the news of a black clad ISIS member standing with a sword over a Christian in an orange jumpsuit, ready to murder them. Slowly sinking to sit down on the stage, he paused for a moment, and then quietly said, “God has been reminding me that that man, holding a sword…has got a name.”
That hit me like a rock to the head. As if God wasn’t convicting me already, Eric later said, “The way that Jesus sees people is not always the way we see people.” You see, I see people by their sin, the strife between us, how they’ve hurt me; a nameless enemy. God sees them as people with names who are dearly loved; a redemption story waiting to unfold. Huge difference.
How would my life change if I was able to look at someone, realize that we’re different, that we completely disagree on something, that they might even be living in sin….and still be able to love them like Jesus does and pray over them anyway? What if I didn’t just get angry that a Planned Parenthood advocate was pushing for babies to get murdered, but cared enough about that advocate to realize that there was a name and a story and a person behind the Planned Parenthood label? What if I realized that people hurt me because they are hurting, and learned to love and care for these people even if all I received in return were dirty looks and nasty comments?
This isn’t an eloquent piece; what it is is raw. I’m done dehumanizing people, and I’m done categorizing them as enemies that are unloveable and unsaveable. At one point, I was an enemy of Christ…and he died for me. Even if I disagree with someone, even if they hate me, I still want to love them like my sweet Savior loves me, and I want to pray for them because prayer is powerful and the catalyst for change. I want to live out Matthew 5. Join me?