But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. -Matthew 5:44
It’s easy to feel compassion for some people. They face obviously difficult situations, or they’ve been clearly mistreated, unfairly disadvantaged, or denied rights and privileges. They are clearly trying their best despite having been dealt a bad hand of cards from the deck of life.
There are others who do not evoke our compassion so readily. They have been born into privileged, advantaged situations and are blind to the undeserved benefits of their circumstances. Maybe they seem to have had an “easy” life, and are ungrateful for their advantages. Maybe they speak about others in a way that indicates they are blind to the challenges that others face. Because they seem to lack compassion toward others, we find ourselves reluctant to show compassion toward them. The flowing, cyclical nature of compassion is especially apparent when we consider how suddenly it stops in our relationships with these individuals.
The word “enemy” sounds harsh and violent to our modern ears. When we read Jesus’ instruction to love our “enemies,” it’s easy to dismiss it as an antiquated mandate, intended for a society more stratified than our own. I would suggest that we consider not only our enemies, but the enemies of our love: those who seem to halt the flow of compassion. What would it mean to love these people?
Implicit in Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies is the notion that true love will extend to everyone, not just those who we easily love. The generative cycle of compassion and love will produce even more compassion and love. Those who receive compassion may develop a taste for it, realizing the sweetness of being invited into fellowship. If we withhold compassion from those who seem compassion-less, we eliminate the possibility of love taking root and growing within them. Love is a force powerful enough to win when it is lavished upon its own enemies.
Who is the person who came to mind as you read the first paragraph? Imagine for a moment that you were living their life. Imagine the experience this individual has had in life. What conclusions might you have reached if you were in their shoes? Today, consider that this person is doing their best. Consider that they may be trying as hard as they can. Extend to them the compassion you would want to receive yourself. The more readily we extend it, the more power we give to love
About the Author
Elizabeth Jeffries is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Pittsburgh and writes nonfiction on a freelance basis. She and her husband, Mark, live in the City of Pittsburgh, and members of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in the South Side neighborhood. You can find her online at www.elizabethjeffrieswrites.com and on Twitter @EPJeff.