By Rev. Erik Esparza
The Word of God will not only comfort us, but will also challenge us. We read such a challenge in the Gospel of Matthew when our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples: “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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” (5:43-46)
When was the last time you prayed for someone who in some way persecuted you? What was the content of your prayer to God? Perhaps it was something like this: “God change this person from his/her evil ways and do it as fast as you can!”
We often want others to change on our own terms and conditions. I don’t believe changing the other person was Jesus’ focus in this passage. Rather, Jesus demanded His disciples to always take the lead and to be the first to do what is right. Jesus desires His disciples never to shut down or shut out others or God, on the contrary, to always have one’s heart and soul open, open to God and to others. God is love and love is what truly can bring about change. Change in us and change in others.
Love first invites us to open our heart and soul so as to be free to consider: my attitude, my thoughts, my decisions, my words, and my reaction. It is after self-reflection that all of us can better respond to others including our enemies with a foundation of love. Saint John Paul II once said, “Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain, but simply loves.”
Jesus is not suggesting you go out to a movie with an enemy, to accept abuse or to pretend as if all is well. After all, wrong is wrong and we must always stand for what is right and just. As we stand for what is right and just, we need to remember that LOVE must always be a part of the equation. You see Jesus is inviting you to look beyond the external words and acts of your enemy. Jesus desires you go deeper and to consider the soul. This is where prayer is needed. You must honestly and consistently pray for the heart and soul of your enemy. Refrain from focusing your time and energy on solely the exterior. For when you pray for your enemy to open his/her heart and soul to the presence of God, it is only then that the exterior change will follow. Be patient and do not grow weary. When you find yourself impatient, it just might be an invitation to consider whether your heart and soul is still open to God and to others! Saint John Paul II reminds us, “Darkness can only be scattered by light, hatred can only be conquered by love.”
Now go forth and be a joyful witness!
Fr. Erik Esparza is Associate Director of the Office of Priest Personnel in the Diocese of San Bernardino.