Matthew 5:44 “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.”
Just as Jesus perceived blessings where the world saw persecutions, he understood that our victory over the world would come by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. In the world, victory means hating and defeating your enemies. But in the Kingdom of God, the definition of victory is to love and pray for your enemies. This ongoing battle between the world and God’s Kingdom is primarily over the issue of how they define victory.
But inasmuch as God is still God, and the world is what it is, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that victory, as the world defines it, is very fleeting and basically an illusion. Because even though we may defeat some of our enemies by striking out at them, there will always be more ready to take their place – and one day they will certainly defeat us. Those who seek victory over their opponents by hating them only guarantee themselves a steadily increasing supply of folks to hate.
Jesus said, “all they who take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Mat 26:52) Because he knew that hatred and violence could not succeed in the end. Hating those who oppose us can never lead to their ultimate defeat; our hatred only strengthens and creates more of them. It motivates our opponents and destroys our moral position, rather than securing the kind of victory that we crave. So then, it isn’t really our ‘cultural enemies’ who are the problem. The problem is in overcoming hatred.
The world triumphs whenever we act in accordance with the world’s insane logic – striving for victory as the world defines it. When we angrily strike out at our opponents, it’s as much to say that our real enemy – evidenced in the bigotry, racism, and violence that we see in the world today – has already defeated us. Only love can overcome hatred. When we love our enemies and pray for them, we’ve triumphed over the world’s insane logic, manifested in the circle of violence. When those who were our enemies are no longer treated as enemies, we can begin to claim the kind of victory that we craved all along.
Many people will say, “That sounds well and good, but it’s also quite naive. Just because we don’t fight back or think of them as enemies doesn’t mean they’re going to stop using us as their scapegoats. We’ll never succeed in securing our rights unless we stand up and fight. Pretending they aren’t our enemies isn’t going to change their minds.”
But loving and praying for those who oppose us doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting and demonstrating for our rights. God intended that all people should have the same rights, and so we have a duty to uphold the grace and providence of God. We also have a duty to love our neighbors, and we cannot love our GLBT neighbors without seeking to secure their rights. It only means that we shouldn’t hate and strike out at other people, since they aren’t the problem. The problem is in perpetuating hatred, and those who choose to call themselves our ‘cultural enemies’ are just as much the victims of their own hatred as we are. Much more so, once we recognize the truth and stop hating them back.
St. Paul pointed out that, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6:12) At the deepest level, we are engaged in spiritual warfare against an enemy that uses people, on both sides, to ultimately get his way. Our real enemies are his most effective weapons: fear, ignorance, pride, and hatred. Our battle for equal rights is the outward manifestation of a much broader and deeper spiritual war in the ongoing struggle for human dignity. Whenever we lose our perspective, by hating other people instead, we give our real enemies the chance they were looking for.
When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed for the people who had put him there, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luk 23:34) Those who crucified Jesus didn’t understand the harm they were doing to themselves, and the devastating consequences of religious hypocrisy in their own spiritual lives. Likewise, the people who hate us don’t understand that they’re going against everything that Jesus did and taught. They’ve been so completely seduced by a false and legalistic religion, they don’t recognize how they’ve become just like the Pharisees. They worship Jesus and genuinely desire to be more like him but in reality, they are still crucifying Jesus in their persecution of GLBT’s. As Jesus predicted, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me.” (Mat 25:40)
Jesus observed how the Pharisees “build the tombs of the prophets and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous … (and yet they) are the (spiritual) children of them which killed the prophets.” (Mat 23:29-31) In the same manner, there are Christians today who honor Jesus and erect beautiful churches in his name, even while promoting the same kind of religious intolerance and hatred that killed the prophets and crucified Jesus. They have been so blinded by religious pride and thousands of years of institutional homophobia that they don’t understand the devastating consequences of their actions – not only for their GLBT neighbors, but much more for themselves. So rather than hating them, we ought to be praying for them.
Jesus’ final prayer for those who crucified him was his ultimate victory over the world. He never lost sight of the real enemy – and neither should we. Especially since Christ’s triumph over religious hypocrisy is the same victory being accomplished in our lives today. If we’ve inherited some small measure of the persecutions of Jesus, we will also inherit the full measure of Christ’s victory – so long as we don’t lose sight of the real enemy. Having faith in Jesus means having faith in the way that he showed us how to live a victorious life.