In the opening scene of Shaun of the Dead, Shaun’s girlfriend Liz carefully and patiently explains to him that she would like to have a date with just the two of them, unaccompanied by his immature and boorish friend, Ed. Ed is Shaun’s best friend, and we sense from the beginning that honoring Liz’s request will be complicated.
Jesus’ commandment to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” reminds me a bit of that scene. Here we are trying to build a good relationship with God, and he keeps insisting on bringing obnoxious, unpleasant people to the party. In fact, he insists that we find them and bring them along too. Why on earth would we want to stand in God’s glorious presence with them? Surely he’s kidding about asking for mercy and compassion on their behalf? It’s completely unreasonable. Not possible. You’d have to be a saint.
The stumbling block, I suspect, is that our enemies seem less than human, and we imagine that we must feel love for them before we pray for them. Praying for them seems like doing them a good turn, and that offends our sense of justice.
But of course, justice is not what this is all about, is it? We were once enemies ourselves.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “As disciples of the compassionate Lord who took upon himself the condition of a slave and suffered death for our sake, there are no boundaries to our prayers.” 1 What a startling thought. There is no one we cannot pray for. No one we should not pray for. As disciples we are free to lift up anyone into God’s presence: the serial killer, the dictator, the Republicans and Democrats, the people who injure our loved ones, the people who cheat us and shame us and hurt just because they can.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Pray for those who are less than human to you. There are no boundaries to our prayers or to the mystery of divine compassion.
- “Anchored in God through Prayer.” Soujourners 7 (April 1978):20-21. ↩