“Pray For Those Who Persecute You”
Late one night, a truck driver pulled into Jim’s truck stop on Walden to fill up and get a little bite to eat. As he was eating, three nasty looking motorcyclists noisily strutted in and made their way to the bar. For some unknown reason they gravitated toward the truck driver. One poured a little salt on the truck drivers head, another knocked his pie on the floor, while the third managed to knock the truck driver’s coffee off the counter and into the man’s lap. The truck driver got up, said nothing, paid his bill and made his exit. “That dude sure wasn’t much of a fighter” sneered one of the cyclists. The waitress peered out of the kitchen window onto the dark parking lot and answered, “He’s not much of a driver either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”
Somehow, it gives joy to our hearts to see nasty people get paid back for their nastiness. And yet, Jesus gives us a different way to look at things in today’s gospel. Last week we heard Jesus list several of the commandments with the phrase, “you have heard that it was said…” and then gives his interpretation of how we were to observe them with the words, “ But I say to you…”
Today’s gospel continues this pattern with two other commandments: The first is the law of talion, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” The second is the law of love…the love of neighbor. We might do well to look briefly at both of these commandments in today’s gospel. The law of the talion regards a certain proportionality of recompense. It was a very ancient principle shared by many civilized people. In fact, it is the principle on which we base our own civil legal system, that if someone harms you, any restitution must be proportionate to the harm done.
When Jesus tells us not to resist one who is evil, he is not addressing those who have responsibility to keep order in society such as law enforcement officers and judges. There job is to vindicate the rights of those who are injured. If you think about it, without someone to keep order in any society, there would only be chaos. No, Jesus was addressing the injured person himself or herself. He is not expressing it as a hard and fast rule that we have to allow ourselves to let other people walk all over us. Remember when Jesus was arrested and put on trial. When someone struck him on the cheek, he didn’t turn the other cheek. He didn’t retaliate either. He responded, “why did you strike me?”
We are entitled to stand up for ourselves, but Jesus wants us to let love guide us rather than vengeance. If in society we always exact retribution every time we are injured or offended, we would all be going around blind and toothless as Rev. Martin Luther King said. If all of us had to get even for every hurt in life, we would all end up hating one another. Sometimes we simply have to swallow our pride and move on.
Now what about that second commandment? I am certain that we have all at one time or another heard sermons about loving our neighbor as ourselves. This may be part of the greatest commandment but it’s also one of the most difficult.
There is one thing Jesus said in his comments about this command that I think is extremely practical and useful: Jesus said, “pray for those who persecute you.” Some years ago, someone hurt me very badly and whenever I thought about that person, O could feel my blood pressure go through the roof and the anger that would begin to rage inside me was at times too much to bear.
One day when I was feeling very angry, these words of Jesus came to me and once they did, whenever I thought about that person, I said a little prayer for the individual. It got rid of all my anger and bitterness. I will admit that this does not make me perfect,. If that person were ever to show up at the rectory wanting to borrow a few hundred bucks, I don’t know if I would give it to them (if I had it…)- I’m sorry, I’m not that far along yet on that road to holiness and perfection; but I can tell you that at least my heart is free of anger now. There is a lot of benefit in forgiving. Now, when someone tells me that someone is driving them crazy or they are having difficulty forgiving, I say to them, “Jesus says pray for those who persecute you.” It will bring you a lot of peace and might even surprise you by helping the other person show more kindness…………..+JMJ…………Fr. Bob!.