“You know that you have been taught, ‘An eye for an eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek…
You have heard people say, ‘Love your neighbours and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who ill-treats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45).
Following Jesus means – according to sayings like these – a life of forgiveness, and active, sometimes painful love. It is sometimes called ‘meekness’, but don’t be misled. This is not the Children’s-Bible-Jesus sitting around on hillsides with sheep and babies. This is Jesus nailed to a cross, betrayed and denied justice, yet somehow finding it in him to pray “Father, forgive them…”
What Jesus demands from his followers is the strength to absorb wrongdoing without hitting back. The determination to do good when everything inside you is shouting at you to repay bad with bad. And if that sounds passive and defeatist, remember that this principle of Jesus is what inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King in their successful non-violent campaigns for change and freedom.
Praying for your enemies is not just something you do for their own good, but something that can change you yourself, especially in how you think about that person, and in your own outlook on life.
If there’s a particular person you find difficult, pray about it and them at the start of the day, and then at other times when needed. Your prayers don’t have to be complicated. Praying, “God, help me!” or “God, please be good to X”, can be just as good a prayer as anything clever or long. Remember to be honest with God. Say what you’re thinking and feeling. You don’t need to pretend.
One way of taking a step down this hard road of loving your enemies is to go out of your way to do something good for someone who doesn’t deserve it. Go on, surprise them.
“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them more” (Oscar Wilde).
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Jesus was someone who stretched the faith of people around him. He constantly dared people to see things differently, to act differently and to take steps of faith towards God.
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