Matthew 5:38-48
Praying for our Enemies

by Rev. Robert J. Wagner

Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye ad a tooth for a tooth.  But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.  Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just  and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  Do not the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?  So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are all familiar with the Gospel teaching to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. However, it is fruitful to dwell on what it tells us about God’s love for us and how that love needs to transform how we treat our neighbors, especially those who hurt us.

Betrayal, cruelty and violence exist all around us. Likely we and our loved ones have suffered from someone else’s unjust actions. So how do we respond to those who purposefully harm us or our family? Perhaps we seek retribution through various channels, legal if necessary. We may also avoid talking to the offending party and his or her family and friends. Likely, we also hold on to the anger we feel toward that person and struggle to forgive the sin that caused so much pain.

These reactions may seem just. We were hurt; the other deserves the same. However, this attitude causes and maintains division in our lives and results in broken relationships and lasting animosity. This discord can even spread to our loved ones and last for generations if left unresolved. How many of our extended families are divided by grudges remaining from sins committed decades ago?

This resentment is a burden, yet we still are tempted to cling to an unresolved injustice and ache until it is resolved to our satisfaction. So when Jesus says to turn the other cheek, it may seem impossible. How can I love my enemy when they have not asked for forgiveness? How can I repay evil done against me with charity? Where is the justice?

As children of our heavenly Father, Jesus asks us to see the situation differently, to see as the One who “makes His sun rise on the bad and the good” (Mt 5:45) sees. God pours out His blessing on all of us, and His desire is that we all join Him in eternal life. Our God desires the sinner. He is the Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, the Divine Physician who comes to heal the broken. Since we are all sinners, this is great news. God creates us in His own image, sends His Son to save us by dying on the cross, forgives us over and over and over again, and never gives up on us even when we may give up on Him. His unending love for each of us is the greatest gift we have, and at the end of our lives on earth, it is the only gift that we will want.

Of course, this love God has for us — the love that gives us eternal meaning — is also offered to our neighbors, even our neighbors who sin against us. God seeks our enemy’s salvation the same as He seeks ours. He wants us all to freely choose to be forgiven and saved, no matter how great their sin. Jesus shows us this on the cross when He looks upon those who hung Him there and says, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Yes, God desires the salvation of every person, and as children of God, so should we. This means we seek to forgive before being asked and to offer mercy before seeking justice. However, we cannot do this on our own. We need the grace of God to see and act as God desires, to be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Therefore, Jesus says, “Pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44), knowing that uniting our enemies in the love of God will not only transform them, it will transform us as well.

In heaven there are no grudges, only perfect love. By praying for those who sin against us, we prepare ourselves, and our enemies, for eternal life. Father, forgive them. Father, forgive us.

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