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 your God in heaven. Matthew 5. 43-45 (NRSV – Adapted)
ISIS has come to Dallas/Ft. Worth. With the recent shootings at the Culwell Center in Garland, provoked by an art exhibit featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, those of us in Texas, and perhaps across the United States, have to face a stark reality. It seems that the violence we thought was limited to the Middle East and other countries far away has now crossed into the U.S.
I watched with great sorrow as the mother of one of the shooters was interviewed. She was grieving the death of her son, trying to make sense of the fact that she didn’t know he had become radicalized in his ideology, and yet she did not blame the police officer who shot her son. In the midst of her tears and heartache, she showed us what love looks like. She loved her son, no doubt, but she was also able to extend that love to the officer who shot her son by acknowledging that he was doing his job.
If you’re like me, you are probably shaken by what seems to be uncontrolled violence occurring in our country and in our world, especially when that violence strikes so close to home. Many, many people will choose to respond to that violence out of their fear and choose to fight violence with violence.
But Jesus, who also lived in a violent time and culture, sought to shift the thinking of his day. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” In other words, if your neighbor did something against you, harmed you, was violent toward you, the common response was to hate that person and pay them back, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus, however, continued his teaching saying, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
I know that it is easy to think that your prayers don’t matter, but I believe that your prayers, especially your prayers for your enemies can transform your life and our world. In fact, Robert Benson writing in his book, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True (Tarcher, 2001), reminds us that in the Hebrew tradition, “there is told the story of the thirty-six who are faithful—so faithful, in fact, that God refuses to have the world come to an end as long as they are alive. It is their devotion that holds the world together. No one but God knows who they are; even they themselves do not know.”
What if you are one of the thirty-six? What if we all made it our practice to pray so faithfully that we might change our world? Might our transformed lives mean that we would be able to make our enemies our friends? I know it is a long, hard journey toward friendship, justice and peace, but it is a journey of saving our lives and our world that seems to me is certainly worth our time and our efforts. What if it is your prayers that are holding our world together? What if?
Holy One, today, as hard as it is for me to say, I ask you to bless those who have done harm to me and to our world. I pray you will bring peace to their hearts so that violence may cease. Grant me enough courage to be a person of peace. Amen.