“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.”–Matthew 5:43-44 (NASB)
The Bible, Jesus in particular, has a way of commanding whatever is most counterintuitive. We are such creatures of the world that, even as believers in Christ, the ways of the world seem more normal than what Jesus asks. Here he tells us to love and pray for enemies.
I have prayed salvation for Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other enemies of America and Christ. I hope all my readers have, too.
Of course, I have done it only in either the privacy of my own solitude or in the safe and friendly environment of a worship service. I can pray for enemies without testing my love for them.
In the ninth chapter of Acts, we meet a man named Ananias.
Jesus appeared to him in a vision and told him to pray for Saul of Tarsus, a dedicated and violent persecutor of the church.
Not only that, he told Ananias Saul’s address and told him to go lay hands on Saul.
That’s more serious. It was not enough to add Saul to his prayer list and mention him every day. It was not enough to go to a prayer meeting and offer a prayer for Saul. It was not enough to do any of the things I suppose most of us do when we pray for enemies. Those things may be enough much of the time, but not for Ananias and not necessarily always enough for any of us.
Let’s suppose I learn that a gang from some kind of rival group is coming to my home town to arrest me and my closest friends, and then drag us all off somewhere else to face some kind of gang justice. Then Jesus tells me where the leader of the gang is holing up and wants me to go there and lay hands on him in loving prayer.
Or let’s imagine Jesus telling a Hatfield to make a social call on a McCoy or a Capulet to go knock on a Montague’s door. It kind of puts loving and praying for enemies in a much more personal perspective.
Ananias was afraid. Like many other Biblical characters–and probably like many if not all of us–he told Jesus that it was not a good idea. Before long, though, he got up and obeyed the call. One key to why he swallowed his fear and went to the house on Straight Street: when Jesus called, “Ananias,” Ananias answered, “Here I am.” How many times has Jesus called me and I wasn’t there?
We know the result, of course. In love, Ananias addressed his enemy as “Brother Saul.” By the laying on of Ananias’ hands, Saul accepted Christ and received the Holy Spirit. Years later, known as Paul, he went all over the known world proclaiming the gospel and wrote more New Testament Scripture than anyone else.
We owe so much of the Bible and nearly all of our basic theological understanding to Paul. Before Saul the persecutor could become Paul the apostle, someone had to pay him a dangerous call. Jesus chose Ananias for the task. Of course, the assignment was not as dangerous as it seemed. Jesus had already blinded Saul and prepared his heart to receive Ananias. I suppose more often than not, what Jesus asks anyone else to do is not as dangerous as it seems, either.