"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 [God] . . ." - Matthew 5:43-44
I've never found "because I said so" a very compelling reason to do something. But whenever I resisted my parents' instructions or talked back or asked why, "Because I said so" was the answer I got.
"I'm the boss of you," in other words. Yes, I know: Sometimes it's the last card remaining in an exasperated parent's hand. And it's almost always for our own good.
But Jesus wasn't interested in being anyone's boss. (As far as we know, he never said, "Argh! Because I'm the Lord, that's why!) He came that we might have life, and his radical love showed us what that is.
Still, he realized some of his teachings would strike us as impractical, impossible, or just plain ridiculous. He knew we would balk and ask why:
I'm supposed to love a mass murderer, Jesus? Really? I'm supposed to pray for a racist bully? You've got to be kidding. And that person in church who annoys me to no end? Come on.
But Jesus doesn't play the boss card—or even the savior card. Instead, he offers explanations, incentives, and his own life.
"So that," he says.
Love your enemies so that resentment and bitterness won't eat you alive. Love your enemies so that you might be delivered from the prison of us-them thinking. Love your enemies so that all the faults you project onto others might be healed within yourself. Love your enemies so that God might find a dwelling place in you.
Pray for those who persecute you so that you might come to realize how much they're like you: wounded, frightened, precious, hungry for love, and usually doing the best they can. Pray for them so that you can live more fully as a beloved child of God. Pray for them that we might be one, siblings all.
O God, for the good of myself and the world, help me to love that person. Help me to see your face in them so that I might also love myself. Amen.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.