There are a lot of teachings that our blessed Savior espoused that, for the faithful disciple, reflects a hard path, and a tough road to go down. Yet, even as we consider that, there is one that stands out with a sense of difficulty that is perhaps the most challenging: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
Contemplating it even now one has to wonder exactly what Christ meant. After all, we live in a world of struggles and adversity, one where so often, it would seem at least, when one challenge fades another arises to strike at us. As warriors for Christ (Ephesians 6:10-18) we are not meant to be doormats, to be the ones who are walked all over. To run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1) we have to be strong, and to assert ourselves in a world where the wisdom of God is so often viewed as foolishness.
How then can we properly love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? How can that be the ground we stand upon and find that we maintain our integrity?
Perhaps our best understand comes from the story of Saul of Tarsus. (Acts 9:1-19)
The great persecutor of the early church, there were few names that reached as far or struck as much fear as his. Any disciple who wished to preserve their life knew he was a force to be avoided. There were few who could be viewed as a greater enemy than him. Yet, on the road to Damascus, with a hatred in his heard, it would be the same man who would hear the thundering voice of God shake the earth around him, calling out to him.
The point is we never know who God is going to call, nor do we know the miracles that He is going to work. Yet what we do know is that if God truly is love, (1John 4:8) then there is no greater weapon against Him, nor any more powerful tool to be used against His will than our hatred and our fear. It breeds an animosity, a scornful tongue and a self-righteous spirit that does nothing more than hinder His plan and His design.
The disciple is called to love their enemy and to pray for those who persecute not because it is an easy task or a simple one, but because it is the right one. By failing in this teaching we let thoughts and ideas into our hearts and minds that have no rightful place there. We allow ourselves be tempted in a way that prevents our spiritual growth as we trust our own understanding more than that of God’s. After all, to hate is to believe that one is beyond redemption, beyond salvation and thereby of little value or worth. It is to dehumanize God’s creation when the truth is we need to hope on their redemption all the more, with a greater sense of purpose.
Failing to do this does nothing but harden our own hearts and the hearts of those who need love, who need to be guided by it all the more against us and the guidance they may need.
The truth is not all may have the road to Damascus conversion of Saul. Some may stand steadfast in their ways, guided in the belief that where they stand is right. That does not mean that we should hope any less, understanding where hope and love are, that is where faith begins. In doing this we show a greater trust in God and a better understanding of what his plan is.
Do not rejoice in the fall of others, nor hate any. It blinds you to love and charity, to hope and to faith. In doing this we create for ourselves a stumbling block that ensnares us in the challenges it offers. Be strong and courageous, realizing that, through Christ Jesus, there is no greater power that we possess in our lives than the power we have to love. It is then, and only then, that, as a disciple of our blessed Savior, Christ Jesus, we become the imitator of him that we were intended to be.