Jesus said to his disciples: “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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5:43–45
Jesus continues to deepen and clarify His call to His new command to love of others. The love to which He calls us is radical, total, and can be very challenging at first. He calls us to move far beyond the Old Testament understanding of justice by commanding that we love everyone, including those who persecute us. This call to love is not an option but a command. It’s a requirement for every Christian.
In implementing this command, Jesus gives us not only the command itself but also offers some very practical advice on how we can achieve this depth of love. He says that we should not only love our enemies but that we should pray for them when they persecute us. First of all, an “enemy” is one who tries to inflict some form of harm on us and, generally speaking, sins against us. The common response to these experiences is to defend ourselves and fight back. So the first step is to reject any such temptation. As Jesus said in the Gospel passage prior to this one, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
Today’s Gospel passage takes us even further. The practical advice our Lord gives is to “pray for those who persecute you.” This command not only requires that you reject the temptation to “get back” at a person or even to simply “resist” what they do to us. You must now pray for them. Praying for someone who sins against you is an act of the greatest charity and generosity. And it’s a very practical way to imitate the abundant mercy of God. For that reason, praying for your persecutors radically transforms you interiorly and makes you holy. In a sense, the evil another does to you has the potential to be transformed into a gift given to you, because it gives you an opportunity to return prayer for an injury inflicted. And that is a very real and practical gift we must embrace by this new command of our Lord.
Reflect, today, upon those for whom this new commandment calls you to pray. Whose sin has inflicted some hurt or injury upon you or your family? Who do you hold a grudge toward? Whoever comes to mind, commit yourself to deep and sustained prayer for that person. Pray often for them and continue that prayer for as long as the persecution continues. Doing so will transform any and every attempted malice issued toward you into grace for them and holiness for you.
My Lord of abundant mercy, Your command to pray for those who persecute us was first lived by You to perfection. You prayed for those who crucified You as You hung upon the Cross. Give me the grace I need to not only forgive but to also pray for those who have and continue to try to inflict harm upon me. Give me a heart so filled with mercy that every sin committed against me is transformed into love and my own holiness of life. Jesus, I trust in You.