What would happen if we, as Christians, all started praying for those who do not believe? What if we prayed for our enemies or for tyrants who perpetrate mass murder on their own people? What if we prayed for those who have hurt us, not just the guy who was rude to us in the checkout line at the grocery store; I’m talking about the person who beat you as a child or robbed you as an adult or harmed your child?
That’s a pretty difficult thing to ask, but it’s exactly what Jesus calls upon us to do. He didn’t say we had to like these people. He said we have to love them, all of them. Even the scum-bags. Why did He say this?
Fr Robert Barron on WordonFire.org offers great insight into this conundrum. He tells us that loving our enemies provides a test of our own ability to love. Recently in a comment to one of my posts, an atheist called faith an emotion. I challenged him on this. I told him that, just like love, faith is a choice we make. In order to receive it, we must accept it as a gift.
In choosing to love someone who seems unloveable, we make a decision not to mirror back the hatred that they have shown us. Fr Barron says that those whom we hate tell us a lot about ourselves. We learn from them, so as to not be like them. We’ve all heard it before that the things that bother us in others are the things that we don’t like about ourselves. People who hurt us, remind us of how we have hurt others. It doesn’t have to be to the same extent. They point out our own pride and selfishness and hateful behaviors. And that is hard to face. We want to deny that we are in any way like those whom we despise.
But Fr Barron offers us another reason. If we love someone who treats us badly, he expects us to treat him the same. When we don’t, he doesn’t know what hit him. He doesn’t know how to respond. And maybe, we can bring him back from the abyss. Maybe we can take his hatred and give him love in return, and maybe he’ll change.
Maybe he won’t. But isn’t it worth trying?