Pray for Those People

Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. -Matthew 5:43-48 CEB

You’ve probably heard the command to love your enemies and pray for them before today. It’s part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” one of Jesus’ longest public speeches. Like any of God’s commands, loving enemies and praying for them doesn’t come naturally. 

Loving our friends? Sure! Praying for those who are on our side? Yep!  But loving our enemies? Praying for people who harass us? Ugh. Thanks, but no thanks, Jesus. 

Jesus doesn’t take “thanks, but no thanks” for an answer in our lives as Christians, though. There is no wiggle room here. Love those people. Pray for those people. Yes, even those people.

Well, fine. I’ll pray for God to turn their hearts and correct their wicked ways. They sure need God’s help to stop hurting me. Easy peasy.

Praying that God change our enemies’ hearts is one way to pray for them. Sometimes, this is appropriate and good. But let’s be honest— those prayers very quickly become self-righteous, further dividing “us” from “them.” It’s easy to pray for God to fix those people because it lets us keep on believing they’re the problem.

Sometimes, they really are the problem.

That is true. But let’s go back to what Jesus said- that our heavenly father sends sunshine and rain to the good AND the evil— and all out of pure, fatherly, divine, complete love. You and I receive that love, too, and we received it even when we were still sinners. Jesus isn’t asking us to distinguish between good people who deserve love and sinners who deserve nothing. Jesus is commanding us to love and pray for even those people we’d rather not.

So instead of just praying the kinds of prayers that let me keep my distance, I should pray the prayers that draw me closer to my enemies? Sounds risky.

It is risky. Loving people is always risky. It’s also the only thing that transforms community and brings the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. We can love people  in many ways, but one that Jesus shows us here is prayer.

I might need to start small. Maybe I’ll pray for those people’s kids. It’s easy for me to pray for kids to be supported and loved. Or maybe I’ll pray for those people’s health. I wouldn’t want anybody to get sick. Maybe I can even pray for their lives to be full of the fruit of God’s Spirit- you know, that whole “love, joy, peace, patience” thing.

No prayer offered in faith and obedience to Jesus is ever small. And you might be surprised to find that as you pray for “those people,” they start to feel less and less like your enemies and more and more like your siblings in God’s family. Who knows? Maybe they’ve already been praying for you.

I never thought I might be somebody’s enemy! I guess I’m part of somebody else’s “those people” without even realizing it. You know, I kind of like the idea of Christians who disagree with each other still praying for one another. It shows that we realize that our trust in God is more important than the fine print of what we believe. I’ll pray for those people. It sounds like what Jesus wants.

Amen.