“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, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I don’t think there is a person in the world who hasn’t been let down by people or persons at some point in their life: used, betrayed, manipulated, back-stabbed, bullied, criticized, heart-broken, or worse. There is a certain gratification that one gets in hating the people who have hurt us. And then a sense of perverse satisfaction that one obtains if one is able to strike back and exact vengeance. But that is the way of the world; and if we want to be children of our Father, then we can’t be like that.
So, what do we do? Scripture says many things that might help us to love those we hate. We get one such piece of advice in today’s passage itself where Lord Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) When we begin to pray for the people who hurt us, we will find that our hatred slowly starts to fade. It might take a few weeks, even a few months, but it will eventually disappear, and in the process we will find ourselves pruned of a lot of rubbish.
Our Lord also said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). And what is the will of the Father? “That we forgive others their sins as our Father has forgiven us” (cf. Matthew 6:12). We truly show ourselves to “be children of our Father in heaven” when we are able to extend mercy towards others as he has extended towards us. And isn’t it only fair that we do so? How can we expect mercy on one hand and withhold it on the other?
Then John writes: “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:19-20). When we love those who hate us, we show we understand God’s love for us. Remember, he died for us while we were still his enemies (see Romans 5:8).
John also writes, “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:21). Ultimately, this is a command. Jesus had said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” By loving those who hate us we show ourselves to be our Lord’s disciples.
And isn’t this what we all want?