When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation (Proverbs 11:10 NRSV).
To humans, this is a natural phenomenon, to rejoice when an enemy is eliminated. It is a great sign of relief for an individual, a family or a community. This Old Testament way of life is still being practised by many in the New Testament. They don’t only rejoice at the destruction of their enemies but fast and pray for their annihilation. I have watched and heard acclaimed “Christ’s followers” fasting and praying for the death of a labelled enemy a fellow human being.
This is an act of spiritual vengeance, a disturbing trend in our world today, a lifestyle (of an eye for eye) which Christ condemned during His earthly ministry (see Matthew 5:38). As Lord, Master and Teacher, He gave a new way of dealing with our enemies:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV).
If you are Christ’s faithful, how much do you believe in Christ and His message? His message above reflects the personality of Christ and His expectation from His heralds and followers. Christ’s earthly ministry and lifestyle was hinged on love for all – enemies, friends, relatives, outcasts, Jews and Gentiles. His core mission on earth was to seek the lost sheep – sinners as the scripture rightly noted:
I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32 NRSV).
His first apostles were commissioned to go after the lost sheep. (See Matthew 10:5-7), and at the climax of His earthly ministry before His ascension, He breathed on them and tasked them to go into the world, proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand and baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (See Matthew 28:16-20, John 20:19-23).
We call ourselves Christians – Christ-like. Christ was a redeemer of sinners. He searched them out, ate with them and converted them. True followers of Christ are expected to do same to their enemies or sinners. But unfortunately, instead of us Christians to pray for their conversion like Christ did, some of us pray and fast for their destruction. If Christ’s mission is to seek the lost, why are we calling on Him to destroy them rather than to redeem them?
If we are all calling on God to destroy one another, who will remain on the face of the earth? The Scripture says, “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, so that You may be revered (Psalm 130:3-4 NRSV). We should ask ourselves if we are really worthy of God’s love. No one truly deserves God’s mercy and love. We were all won into the sheepfold of our redeemer, Christ Jesus.
When you pray for the death or destruction of your enemies, you are only trying to get even with him/her, a life of an eye for an eye. And God is telling you to forgive, for vengeance is Mine and not yours (see Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-21). David, the man after God’s heart, once had the opportunity to slay King Saul who had set out with his finest soldiers to end David’s life. But David spared Saul’s life because he was God’s anointed (See 1 Samuel 24:26). The man who finally killed Saul was ordered by David to be slain after he brought the news to David of what he did to Saul. He thought David would rejoice at the news and maybe even honour him, but David tore his clothes and mourned Saul’s death and his son Jonathan’s (see 2 Samuel 1).
As Christ’s faithful, Jesus Christ is commanding us to forgive our enemies. Stephen did ask God to forgive those who stoned him to death (see Acts 7:54-60). Paul, who led Stephen’s execution, later had an encounter with God on his journey to Damascus to crush Christ’s disciples. That singular encounter changed his entire life and he became one of the greatest ministers of the Good News (see Acts 9:1-19). Paul wrote fourteen books out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. God can transform the heart of the worst sinner and use him/her for the good of mankind. Remember the heart of the king is in God’s hands (see Proverbs 21:1).
This was Christ’s position before His crucifixion, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (see John 12:32). Apostle Paul, who once persecuted the Church but became a beneficiary of God’s mercy, along with Barnabas reminded the people of Antioch of Pisidia of God’s demand from them, “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47 NRSV).
This is the mission of Christ’s faithful: to seek the redemption of lost souls and not their destruction. Instead of praying for the destruction of your enemies, pray that God should arrest them and free them from the evil spirit that is using them to perpetrate evil. God is more willing to answer prayers that seek the conversion of people to an upright life than the ones that seek their destruction.
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23 NRSV).
God is a patient God who longs for the salvation of everyone. He was patient with us and He is still patient with us. He wants us to return to Him when we stray from the path of life. We too must be imitators of God, bearing with one another and looking out for one another’s conversion and not destruction.
Therefore, “Let us abandon a language of condemnation and embrace one of mercy” said Pope Francis. God is a merciful God. We too must be merciful towards one another. Christians are not those who conquered others to live happily on earth but those who conquered the obstacles on their earthly pilgrimage to live happily in God’s kingdom. On judgment day, I really don’t think God will ask you how many enemies you conquered but how many you loved.
Finally, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, the Old Testament says, “When the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” (see Proverbs 11:10), but the New Testament says, “The heavens rejoice over one repentant sinner” (see Luke 15:7,10). The Old Testament says, “An eye for an eye” (see Exodus 21:23-24), but the New Testament says, “Pray for (bless) your enemies and love them” (see Luke 6:28).
Am I a sinner or was I once a sinner? If God forgave me my sins, why do I think my enemies do not deserve God’s mercy?
Heavenly Father, it is very difficult to forgive my enemies, but grant me the grace to pardon those who persecute and hurt me. Amen.
Jesus Christ Speaks
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 NRSV).