Perhaps I am more sensitive these days because of all the strife in my own country and the world, but it seems that Jesus is repeatedly pushing his point about how we are to love. Today, again from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, I can practically hear the urgency in his voice when he tells us that we are called not just to love those who are easy to love but also those we would name “enemy.” He leaves no space for misinterpretation of the message. God, he says, “makes the sun rise on the bad and the good and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Then come his questions:
If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?…If you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that??
In trying to get a handle on just how serious a challenge this is, I create examples of people I might cross the street to avoid. One might be a man dressed in black pants and a muscle shirt who is covered with tattoos and chains for jewelry, smelling of alcohol and/or cigarettes. I ask myself how I would greet this man. Not knowing anything about him, I would probably jump to the conclusion that he is a gang member and just that designation has taught me to fear him. Then there are those I don’t need to create because I hear about them and their actions on the news at night. Just hearing the name Bashar al-Assad is for me what we used to call a “near occasion of sin.”
So is there a way to “love” those “neighbors?” I can think of two possibilities. The first answer for me is always prayer; I could pray for them. (Noting that I say “I could pray” points out to me that I have not – thus far – taken Jesus seriously on this point.) Then I would have to get serious about how to pray for them. What would I ask for? Their conversion, perhaps? Or my conversion toward them, seeing them as human beings, deserving of my consideration?
As a start, though, perhaps I ought to pray for those people in my daily life who are difficult to love, and treat them as the beloved of God. By practicing on those cases, maybe it would become more possible to approach “my enemy.” Maybe the guy with the chains is part of a very charitable Harley Davidson group – a fact I wouldn’t know unless I approached and greeted him and got him talking…On the other hand, I will likely never meet the world leaders that I find most difficult so everything in that realm is just theory. But there is still my prayer…Do I really believe in the efficacy of it? Might I (at least) be changed by consistent and sincere practice? I will never know, I guess, until I try.