“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
We often think of enemies in connection with war: enemies live in other countries and on other continents.
But Jesus is focusing much closer to home: the neighbor who throws loud all-night parties, the uncle who is abusive, the kid who bullies your little brother. We are angry with them. We would like to see them corrected, perhaps even punished!
And yet Jesus tells us to love them! That doesn’t necessarily mean feeling good about them. I love my daughters, and it is good to spend time with them. But that’s not what Jesus means here. The love word he uses suggests action; Jesus is telling us to act in a loving way toward people who are difficult to love.
Jesus even tells us to pray for them. We can talk with God about them and ask God to guide and bless them. We can confess our fears and our anger. We can ask God to show us the image of God in them. We can ask for insight into why they might act as they do.
God does not expect us to make friends with people who disrespect us, or to tolerate abuse from them. But as we faithfully pray for them, God will help us think compassionately about them, and begin to act kindly toward them, and even learn to speak truth to them with love and respect.
Dear Jesus, help us to love and pray for neighbors who are not loving, and who perhaps are even mean to us. May they see your love through our kind words and actions. Amen.