How often do you hear the phrase, the exception to the rule? This concept helps us thoughtfully delineate between the letter and spirit of the law. Problematically, people can come up with a lot of exceptions. As soon as a rule has multiple exceptions, we begin to ask why do have the rule in the first place?
I wonder how often we do this in our spiritual lives? We want the exceptions. Our faults and failures can then become palatable. Instead of actually seeking growth and transformation, we look for the easy way out in exceptions.
Matthew 5:44 makes a powerful statement, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Most of us would agree this command makes sense. These words of Jesus invite us to rise above the problems we have with others. Who wouldn’t want to do good to others, overcome difficult people with love and learn how to reconcile?
The problems come with the exceptions. We begin to say things to ourselves like this:
You have no idea how difficult this person makes my life…
If you only knew what they said or did to me…
My enemy will never change…
Loving our enemies makes logical sense until we meet the moment we can practice it. Then we find the exceptions.
Jesus in Matthew 5:45 gives this command out of the motivation of identity, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” The Gospel reminds us that we once were enemies of God. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we experience grace and forgiveness. Since God adopts us as His sons and daughters, we then learn how to see our enemies how He sees them.
When we have enemies in our lives, we tend to dehumanize those individuals. These people become problems to solve or roadblocks to destroy. Yet, the simple command of Jesus is to pray for them. Why? Praying for the most difficult people in our lives becomes a way to humanize them. We start to consider their struggles, fears and insecurities. Even more so prayer brings us to see others the way Jesus says them. People loved by God and created in His image.
GK Chesterton made the observation, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”
At the heart of Jesus’ words is an invitation to experience the Gospel in community. Enemies can come from a distance or at times can come from our closest friends. It’s not about negating or overlooking their wrong. It’s about us experiencing the grace of God and learning to extend it to those just like us who don’t deserve it. Rather than making exceptions to Jesus’ command, we can grow and mature into the life Jesus has called us to live.
How can you love and pray for your enemies today?
Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.