When Jesus calls on us to love our enemies, what does that mean? What should it mean? Does it mean that we respect how our enemy might harm us or others? No, I don’t think Jesus would have us respect a man or woman’s sins and hurtful actions. I don’t think Jesus is asking us to condone, enable, encourage, or empower sinfulness in others.
No one should respect murder, bigotry, violence, racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia or transphobia or misogyny. But how then do you love someone who behaves very sinfully or causes harm or proposes harm to others?
Jesus prayed to God, His Father. Jesus prayed on behalf of all sinners. He prayed that they may see the errors of their ways and judgments and see past their greed, their egos, and harmful intentions. He prayed for the well-being of all. He prayed that God find some quality in all of us that is redeemable or of some spiritual value.
We can pray as well. We can pray that our enemies develop more empathy, more kindness, more compassion. We can pray for the courage to forgive others of their trespasses against us. We can pray that wisdom will prevail. We can pray for just resolutions to our conflicts. We can pray for our enemies’ souls to be opened to God. We can pray that their hurts and their internal moral struggles find clarity. We can pray that our enemies’ internal spiritual wounds are healed and mended.
We shouldn’t want our enemies to suffer as we suffer. No one should want anyone to suffer. We shouldn’t seek to answer hate with hate or violence with violence. We should seek to end the cycles of suffering and seek to diffuse the tensions and angers and rages that boil up. We can pray for the courage to listen to the needs of our enemies–rather than their self-serving wants. We can pray that hearts will be opened.
And when our prayers are finished, we can strive to act on those prayers by holding ourselves to better moral standards. We can show kindness and compassion. We can exhibit empathy and invite calm and civil discourse. We can show patience as well. How we conduct ourselves in a gentle manner can go a long way to assure our “enemies” that if they give us a chance, perhaps they will feel invited to shed their anger and engage with us peacefully without feeling cornered or compelled to act defensively or aggressively out of fear.
We can pray to understand the nature of our enemies’ behaviors. Are our enemies acting out of fear? Are they frustrated due to some injustice or some misunderstanding?
At some point, we should also pray that we never need to apply the label, “enemy” upon someone else. While there may be people who threaten our safety or intent to do us harm, if we continue to think in terms of friend or foe, aren’t we sabotaging our own efforts to see everyone as equals? Food for thought, huh? We need to pray for the strength to see others as we see ourselves and resist the urges and compulsions to be judgmental and self-righteous. If we understand the frailties and temptations that plague human nature, perhaps we can better understand our “enemies” and gain some perspective that will help us see past the differences that divide and separate and cause tensions.