“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.” [Matthew 5:43-45 (ESV)]
Have you forgotten what we are to say to ourselves every morning? “Today I shall meet cruel men, cowards and liars, the envious and the drunken. They will be like that because they do not know what is good from what is bad. This is an evil which has fallen upon them not me. They are to be pitied, not….” [From “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis]
“They are to be pitied, not….” Not what? Author C.S. Lewis did not complete the sentence and I don’t think the omission was by accident. When I read the above passage, I thought of the words I (as a Christian) should use to replace the ellipsis; they are not to be reviled, hated, judged, condemned, berated, scorned, abused, or despised. Regretfully, my initial reaction upon running across the scum of the earth—the rapists, molesters, traffickers, exploiters, extorters, attackers, murderers, deceivers, hate-spewers, and tyrants that seem to populate our world—is more likely to be the exact opposite. Rather than a feeling of pity, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, or love, it’s one of outrage, loathing, and disgust.
Whether we’ve met them first-hand, they’ve have touched the lives of those we love, or they’re merely names and faces we know from the news, what is our reaction when we encounter those who are cruel, cowardly, devious, depraved, corrupt, or hate-filled? What is our response when we encounter those who don’t seem to know good from bad or right from wrong? What of those who treat us or others poorly, who betray people’s trust, whose mouths spew venom and deceit? Do we ever think to pray for them or their families or do we limit our prayers to the victims of their evil?
When Jesus was giving what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount, He referred to the Old Testament law (found in Leviticus 19:18) that we are to love our neighbor. While it is easy to infer from this law that we can do the opposite with our enemy, there is no Old Testament law authorizing hatred of our enemies. While Jesus’ listeners may have “heard” that, it never was the written law! He clarified the matter by clearly saying that we are to love our enemy. Since God loves His people indiscriminately, so must we!
Father, we know that people who seem devoid of anything good will cross our paths daily. Keep us from allowing their hate and evil to spill onto our behavior. Never forgetting that they are your children too, may we always recall your command that we are to love friend and foe alike. Help us find a way to forgive the unforgiveable and love the unlovable. Give us a soul of compassion and a heart filled with prayer for all of your children.
A man should not allow himself to hate even his enemies; because if you indulge this passion on some occasions, it will rise of itself in others; if you hate your enemies, you will contract such a vicious habit of mind as by degrees will break out upon those who are your friends, or those who are indifferent to you. [Plutarch]