Jesus’ words about loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors are among the most challenging of his commands. So many of Jesus’ other words soothe and comfort; these seem to jar us. Was Jesus really serious about this?
On this point in particular, we have to say that Jesus not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk.” Jesus not only encourages others to pray for persecutors, but he actually does it himself. As Jesus hangs on the cross the gospel allows us to listen to his prayer to the Father: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23, 34). More than an interesting turn of phrase the words give us insight into how we might love enemies and pray for persecutors.
So often we feel our enemies and persecutors have “one up” on us, they are “at advantage.” The hostility we feel from them makes us feel that they have something, and we are the ones with a deficit. Yet, here Jesus’ insight into his enemies and persecutors tells us that they are the ones lacking something: they don’t know what they are doing. They are empty, blind and ignorant. Tempted to retort that our enemies know exactly what they’re doing, we are invited by Jesus to a deeper level. Yes, they may know that they are hurting us, but from God’s perspective, they are the ones who are hurting.
Surely it is only with grace and strength from the Lord that we can hope to begin to want to love enemies and pray for persecutors. But Jesus’ words from the cross invite us to look for the lack, to pray for insight into what blinds those who harm and hurt us and to pray for them there, all the while contemplating the mysterious Divine Love that “makes . . . sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
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