Following Jesus is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult. In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches on the proper attitude toward those who use and abuse, persecute, and take advantage of us. Verses 38 – 48 are devoted to this topic. In verses 44 and 45, he says:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (KJV)
How can Jesus expect such a thing of us? Well, Jesus knowingly shared his last Passover, and the first Communion, with Judas, who would later betray him. After the Roman soldiers had mocked him, crowned him with thorns, and gambled to see who would get his clothes, Jesus prayed asking God to forgive them. And even though he railed against the Pharisees as a group, Jesus was buried in a tomb provided by a rich Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea. Clearly, Jesus had touched this man, who claimed the body despite the fact that the Pharisees had been pivotal in the story of his arrest, trial and execution. Jesus had blessed Joseph the man, while railing against his religious sect. So now we are to the heart of the matter. We can and must bless those who curse us. But that doesn’t mean that we submit to them or accept their curses on our heads. Jesus contradicted the teachings of the Pharisees on almost every point he addressed. He taught about their practices as being hollow form, rather than true devotion. He rebuked them publicly when they asked for signs to assure them of his authority to teach. He bested them in debates and contests of logic. He warned his followers to beware of their doctrines. Still, Jesus welcomed individual Pharisees into the group whenever they came to hear him teach.
And the Pharisees? They challenged him at every turn, going to where he taught so that they could try to trip him up. They wanted to expose him as he had exposed them. When they couldn’t do that, they slandered him (by saying that he cast out devils through the power of Beelzebub). They plotted against him and sought his death.
So, Jesus has been there and done that. Jesus blessed those who cursed him; those who he knew would eventually push the government to put him to death. Joseph of Arimathea listened to Jesus’ words and understood; one Pharisee was touched. So the blessing worked.
But, Jesus is God. Jesus is the one who loved us so much that he chose to come and live among us, to suffer and to die for us. Of course, Jesus could bless them. How can we be expected to manifest a divinity which isn’t in us – blessing those who curse us? Jesus gives us two ways to reach for this ability to bless our enemies right alongside the commandment. “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
There it is, do good to them and pray for them. Most of us do what we feel like doing for others. How many of us truly are kind and good to others because we should be? We tend instead to do good for the people we like, do bad for the people we don’t like, and ignore the rest. But Jesus has commanded us to do good for everyone: those who love us, those who curse us and, of course, those in between.
But, pray for the people who think God hates me because of who I love? For those who question the depth and power of my faith because I share my life with another woman? Pray for the people who run Exodus International and other ex-gay ministries? Yes. Yes, indeed.
About 10 years ago, I met the two men who founded Exodus International, Michael Bussey and Gary Cooper. They came to a conference to tell their story. It was a story of brokenness and soul wrenching torment. Each of them had been taught, and come to believe, that God hated them because they were gay. So, they struggled through each day, trying to make themselves acceptable in God’s sight. They married and had children. They dedicated themselves to Bible study, prayer, and the church. And they counseled other men like themselves. They offered support and empathy to those who also found themselves impaled on this sword of false belief. And they, with their happy marriages and their children, were a shining example of God’s grace. Until . . .
Until they realized that they had quietly and gradually fallen in love with each other. That realization shook them to the core. Believing as they did, they cut themselves off from the church and the community of faith to be with each other. They were as considerate of their wives as they could be, reassuring them as best they could. They made sure that their children knew that nothing could change the love their fathers bore for them. And they began to slowly wither inside because they believed that their own homosexuality could change the love their Father in heaven bore for them.
It took years for these two wounded souls to question the truth of what they had been taught. Much had been restored to them in the intervening time: good relations with their ex-wives, strong bonds with their children. Gary had become a grandfather. Finally, one day, someone told them that nothing can separate us from the love of God and they heard the message. This friend implored them to return to the family of faith. Their first tentative attempts to read the Bible and pray were excruciatingly painful. But they persevered. Understanding their part in making Exodus International and its affiliated organizations so powerful, these two men bore a terrible burden of guilt when they realized what they had wrought. And they began working to help a whole new generation understand that God loves all of us, whether we’re straight or gay — began to speak out against the idea that homosexuals can be “cured.” After all, they had both struggled with all their might to achieve that cure, only to fail. And neither one had ever known or heard of anyone who had become heterosexual through any of the programs under the Exodus umbrella. Soon, they were speaking out against the ministries as well as their false claims. People working for Exodus began to revile them publicly as reprobates and backsliders.
In coming to know this story, and these men, I learned a great lesson. They weren’t out to get homosexuals. They didn’t want to hurt us, or condemn us. Instead, the people who began the world’s most powerful ex-gay organization were trying with their whole hearts to bring all homosexual people into God’s kingdom. They wanted to bring us the Good News. They were trying to bring Living Water to a thirsty world. Thank God that people were praying for them during those years! Praise God that they finally came to an understanding of grace, and the dignity of homosexuals as part of God’s creation.
So, we must bless those who curse us by doing good for them and praying for them. Sounds like a tough enough challenge for one lifetime to me. And this was only one of Jesus’ harder requirements. Because, you see, it is something our Lord requires of us. Were it not so, Jesus would have said something like, “Bless those who curse you whenever you feel like doing it, and I’ll understand that you’re only human if you choose not to.” But, wait, you’re saying if you read the scripture thoroughly, you skipped the part where it says we have to love our enemies. That’s right, I did. Because I am not up to that and Jesus knows it. Here’s the secret though, if I pray for them and do good for them, eventually, I may learn to love them as Jesus does. Because in praying for them, I attune my heart to heaven’s view of them. In doing good for them, I make my behavior more like Jesus.
When I was in sixth grade, I got my first pair of glasses. I would hang out with the other “four-eyed” kids at recess and we would try on each other’s glasses, just to see how the world looked. I remember wondering if the view through my glasses looked as odd to them as the view through theirs did to me. Then one day, a remarkable thing happened. I traded glasses with a new boy in school. When I put his on, the world looked just as it did when I wore my own! We had the same perspective on the world. We became fast friends until I moved away in the spring.
When we do good to those that hate us, when we pray for those who despitefully use us, when we bless those who curse us, it’s like borrowing Jesus’ glasses. If we do it often enough, perhaps one day, the world will begin to look just the same to us when we wear our own glasses. Perhaps we’ll learn to see through Jesus’ eyes and share his perspective on the world. And then, we’ll be able to love our enemies.