Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 67; 150, Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14, Acts 16:6-15, Luke 10:1-12,17-20
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf,
for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
– Jeremiah, 29:7
You can’t attend church or Sunday school for very long without hearing about how Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. On the other hand, you don’t have to experience the world for too long before realizing Christians in practice do not necessarily prioritize praying for them over defeating, humiliating, or killing them. Whether it’s our rival in the neighborhood association or a dangerous, despotic regime rattling its sabers, wishing them well does not tend to be our go-to response. Rather, we go through some serious ethical and moral contortions to justify treating them like we want to. And it almost never occurs to us that our own defeat might be the better outcome in the long term.
Yet centuries before Jesus, God was telling the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah to pray for Babylon, the empire which had defeated and exiled them. Praying wasn’t just the kind, sacrificial thing to do: the welfare of the two nations was interdependent. How the people of Israel responded to their captors would be instrumental in the eventual welfare of both.
What’s in our own best interest … isn’t always in our own best interest. The Gospel isn’t specific about how we are to pray for our enemies, so naturally we resort to praying for things like their conversion, or at the very least that they see the world more like we do. But what if we prayed for the things we want for ourselves? That their children do not know hunger. That their citizens do not live in fear. That peace reigns among them. What if we prayed – or better yet wanted – these things for them regardless of whether they never came around to our point of view or even wanted these things for us? What if we worked toward it?
If this sounds like passive acceptance, it’s very different. Enmity relies on us dehumanizing each other. If an enemy can claim we have no regard for his life, he is excused from having regard for ours. Refusing to deny the dignity of personhood of each of God’s children is how we retain our own. The first shall be last is more than a Christian motto; it’s how we save each other.
Comfort: Your dignity is yours to cherish or abandon.
Challenge: Be careful how you speak about your enemies, for God loves them, too.
Prayer: I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety. (Psalm 4:8)
Discussion: Do you think loving our enemies really accomplishes anything?
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