The Great Challenge: Loving Your Enemies

This blog post is unprecedented in a variety of ways.  For one, it’s the first time that I’ve included a YouTube video in a blog post.  It took me a while to figure out how to do it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’ll happen more often in the future, now that I know how to do it.  This post is unique for another reason.  As you probably know by now, I’m the assistant director of religious education at the parish in the Archdiocese of Newark, and part of my job description is to create and lead a prayer service for our weekly classes.  Generally, these prayer services include a Scripture passage and reflection, a YouTube video or song that pertains to the subject at hand, and opportunities for both spontaneous and recited prayer.  Below you will find the reflection that I wrote for a recent prayer service on Jesus Christ and the crucifixion, with a special emphasis on His command that we should love our enemies.

“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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” -Matthew 5:43-45

“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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” -Matthew 5:43-45

In the days before Jesus was crucified, He preached throughout Galilee and Judea on His way to Jerusalem.  During one of His many stops along the way, He preached about the importance of love.  Jesus reminded His listeners that the Hebrew Scriptures command that the Jews should love their neighbors, but Jesus issues a challenge that takes this command one step forward: He instructs His followers to love their enemies.  As He points out to those listening, it’s easy to love those who love us; it’s not difficult to be nice to those who are nice to us.  But loving those who love us is not enough, according to Jesus.  We have to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.  This is not always easy.  When someone pushes us on the playground, more often than not, we want to push them back.  When someone argues with us, we want to yell too.  When someone is cruel towards us, our first reaction is often to cross our arms over our chest, pout our lips, and claim that we’re never going to speak to the offender again.  Our first reaction is rarely to forgive someone who hurts us, but to be angry with them or, worse, to get back at them.  We don’t want to turn the other cheek.  We don’t want to pray for those who hurt us.  We don’t want to forgive them.

DesperationThese moments, where we can either fight our offender or forgive them, are opportunities to teach people about Jesus Christ.  We have the chance to touch their hearts, and hopefully to soften them.  Just like in the video, when someone tries to hurt us, we have a few options.  We can run away.  We can throw the stones back, trying to hurt them like they’ve hurt us.  Or we can take those stones, those same stones that hurt us, and we can use them to build a bridge to reach our enemy.  Rather than running away from him or hurting him, we can embrace him.  We can love him.  It’s the Christ-like thing to do.

Jesus Christ showed us what it means to forgive our enemies when He asked His Father to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross.  Even though we weren’t there at the crucifixion, He was offering us forgiveness as well.  We are not always the one that is having stones thrown at us; sometimes we are the stone-throwers.  But Jesus Christ has already forgiven us our sins, and now He has invited us to do the same.  So next time you have “stones” thrown at you, don’t get mad.  Be creative.  Build a bridge.  Love your enemies.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

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