Call me crazy. Again. But, this morning, I watched the CBS news and I waited to hear the name of the man we’ve seen on television doing unspeakable things. I wanted to know his real name. Not the nickname people have given him. Because, say what you will, he was once a little boy and not always appearing in videos that strike fear into onlookers. He is a man, created in the image of God, and I wanted to know his name.
I am not brave. I don’t know what I would do if I were wearing an orange jumpsuit on the shore. I believe, with all my heart, I would be terrified.
It is easy to want to demonize a man (or a group of people) who wish evil on others and who actually accomplish evil in the name of religion or God or god or power or anger or fear or other distortions that rest at the root of evil. It is easier, instead, to find solidarity with people upon whom evil is unleashed, especially when we share something in common with the victims. We want to know and remember and honor their names. We print them in lovely handwriting and we pray and we mourn and we offer our condolences, as we should. It is right and good to weep with those who weep, and to mourn with those who mourn.
As people of the cross, followers of Jesus, believers, we are also called to pray for our enemies. To bless those who curse us. This call is the epitome of craziness when we make the way of the world our standard, yes?
Throughout history, we have proven it is our nature to dehumanize a person or group of people by giving them unsavory names. Stripping away the name a person’s mother gave him makes it easier to treat that person poorly and to cast them aside and to believe they are unworthy of grace or love or even the prayers of people of faith. That, my friend, is the work of the enemy, who would seek to divide us and make us forget the power available to us when we pray for those who do us wrong. The people who make us fearful and who cause us to cower or to wring our hands haven’t always been that way. Somehow, they slipped over the edge, and not a single one of us is exempt from the possibility of finding ourselves the perpetrator of evil against another human being.
What I know is this: God calls us to live differently from the status quo. He keeps pointing above the fray and to higher ground; a better way. I want to work out of my God-created self, and I’m still learning what that means. But, I have to believe God’s ways are worth it. One way to pray for our enemies is to use their actual names, and not the ones placed on them by people who fear them and who wish to destroy them. The world is watching, and we have this gift in earthen vessels.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.” —Matthew 5:43-47
So, this morning, I waited for the CBS newscaster to say the real name of this man — the name he uses among his friends. And when I heard it, I wrote it on a post-it note and stuck it to the window above my kitchen sink, where the sun pours in and I’m reminded to bless those who curse me. Those who curse us. Those who curse you.
Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again. —James 5:16-18
Prayer is a powerful thing, even when practiced by regular people. I don’t want to minimize the tragedies of our day and I don’t want to sound trite or pithy. I simply point back to the Word of God — halfway doubting, and halfway trusting that it is true — and try to remember to exercise this gift of prayer, even in the worst situations.
Some questions for you: Why do you think Jesus instructed us to pray for our enemies? What good can possibly come of that? What changes when we pray for our enemies? What difference does it make if we use a person’s real name when we talk about them and pray for them?