It’s a common thing to hear Christians quote verses of scripture like Matthew 22:39. It reads, “And the second (commandment) is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
This is a prominent tenet of the Christian faith. Preachers remind us of that frequently and skeptics also like to remind us of it when they don’t see this in action. However, there’s another teaching of Jesus that we very much like to pretend doesn’t exist. It comes from Matthew 5:44.
But I say to you, love your enemies bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
That one hits me right between the eyes. Love my enemies? Bless those who curse me? Do good (not just be good) to those who hate me? Pray for those who persecute me? Come on, now! No way did Jesus really mean this! Yes He did.
It would be easy for me to point to the words of Jesus as He was being crucified. He prayed for forgiveness for the very men who were nailing Him to the cross. That’s not the example I want to look at briefly today. Rather, let’s take a look at something that happened the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.
John 13 records Jesus doing something unheard of for His disciples at the last supper. He washes their feet! The Messiah, Son of God, gets down on His knees and washes the filth from the feet of His disciples. The act by itself raises eyebrows, but look closer and it may astound you even more.
Given the Jewish obsession with ceremonial cleanliness, this would have almost certainly happened before they sat down to eat. That means that when Jesus washed the disciples feet, He washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who had already agreed to hand Him over to the Sanhedrin that very night. This is Matthew 5:44 in action.
During my time at Lee University, I had the honor of sitting under a man that I consider my mentor, who is to me a spiritual giant. That man was Dr. David Horton. He directed Campus Choir, which I was a part of, taught several music classes, and during my graduate studies, I was blessed to be his graduate assistant. I gleaned so much wisdom from the time I spent in his office listening to him talk about worship. But I’ll never forget this one moment where he made himself incredibly transparent, not just to me, but to about one hundred students at a Campus Choir prayer meeting.
Doc was a basketball fan. He was a huge fan of the NBA, especially the famous Utah Jazz duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone. He knew that I was a Bulls fan and he would always give me grief over that. He didn’t understand how in the world I could cheer for a team that featured Dennis Rodman in its starting lineup.
Rodman was nicknamed, ‘The Worm.’ It was a fitting nickname as he was certainly one of the dirtier players the NBA had ever seen. He wasn’t any better off the court either.
One night during prayer meeting, Doc was sharing about the importance of forgiveness and love with regard to people that we didn’t like. He shared with us that God had dealt with him specifically regarding Dennis Rodman. We all kind of chuckled at first, but he was dead serious. He told us that he would find himself getting mad just watching Rodman play basketball. One night while he was steaming over how horrible a human being Rodman was, God asked him a simple question. The question was: Don’t you think I died for Dennis Rodman just like I died for you?
Doc broke down and repented to us. He said that God brought him to a point of praying for Dennis Rodman rather than hating him.
I have never forgotten the lesson of that night. No matter what my personal feelings about an individual are, God loves them just as much as He loves me. I should pray for those people that I don’t like. I should bless those who have tried to cause harm to me and my family.
I will confess that I don’t always get it right in regard to this. When I find myself struggling, I remind myself that Jesus washed the feet of the man who betrayed Him. I should certainly be able to pray for someone.