Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
In times of peace and comfort these words from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are difficult to comprehend. Enemies are enemies for a reason. How are we to “love” them? Jesus’ words are even more burdensome when we find ourselves in the midst of conflict and distress. It is hard to keep these words when an enemy is merely hypothetical or distant. It is even harder when an enemy is near so close that they strike us and those whom we love. Jesus’ words are seemingly unintelligible when enemies violently disturb the ordinary peace of daily life.
How can we keep these words when anger, hatred, fear, and vengeance scream so loudly inside of us? What does it even mean to love someone who has broken the fragile reality of our safety? What does Jesus even ask of us in such a time? Our English language fails us at this point for we only have one word for love. Greek, the original language of the New Testament, has several and Jesus is intentional in his selection of words. Jesus knows the reality of human relationships and the brokenness that wages within and among humanity. He is not telling us to ignore or wash over that brokenness. He asks of His disciples a love which acknowledges that an enemy is still an enemy and not a friend.
So what then does it mean to love your enemies? Here Jesus’ word for love is the same one He uses to speak of His own love towards us: a love of service and sacrifice. It is a love that honors the dignity of all who are made in the image of God. A love that finds it’s fullest expression in the cross. This is St. Paul’s example of loving one’s enemy, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8,10). The love, which brings about our peace and forgiveness is what Jesus calls us to show our enemies. He does not call us to forget evil deeds, nor excuse them, nor not see that enemies are brought to justice, but rather with His peace in us, extend and offer the same saving forgiveness to them in time. As He taught us to pray, “forgive us our sins aswe forgive those who have sinned against us.”
Though anger towards those who attacked Boston is natural in the wake of our grief, that anger cannot lead us to forget that even our enemies are ones for whom Christ has died. We cannot comprehend what they have done. We only know that their actions have hurt us. But we of faith also know that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overtake Him. Therefore, all that is left for us to do is to pray. To pray for them, for those whom they have harmed and for those who are working to bring their evil deeds to an end. To pray for our enemies and in time and by grace offer forgiveness, for the sake of Christ who has forgiven us. For only by looking to His life can Jesus’ words make any sense. In Him we see that the love He calls us to give is always cruciform.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.