Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr, and many other great saints and spiritual figures have been able to love their enemies because they see their enemies for more than just their wrongdoings. When we see our enemies for who God created them to be, we too can love them. This practice aims to see our enemies as Jesus sees them and to cultivate love and compassion for them.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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 the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with our soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 40.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Introducing the Practice
Most everyone in America has some idea of who Martin Luther King Jr. is. He is the civil rights activist who fought for equal rights for African Americans. He is the champion of nonviolent protest. He is the courageous leader who was tragically assassinated. And while many are aware that King was a Baptist minister whose Christian faith influenced his mission to work for equal rights, the role of prayer in King’s life isn’t discussed as often as the role of social action. Nevertheless, King was a man deeply committed to the practice of prayer, and it was from his prayer that he drew the motivation to accomplish so many great things. Even amidst the busiest times of his life, he regularly set aside time, even full days, for silence and prayer. In prayer, King found the strength, courage, and inner peace to love his enemies while actively working to oppose them. Through this deep inner prayer life, King found a way to respond to violence with nonviolence, hate with love, and fear with courage. Martin Luther King Jr. embodies the attitude of Jesus who, when on the cross, prayed for his enemies saying “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” When we open our hearts to the God who is merciful and loving, we too can follow in the example of Martin Luther King Jr. by praying for our enemies and showing them love, even if they continue to show us the opposite.
Preparing for the Practice
Have everyone spread out to find a comfortable place to sit where they can still hear the voice of the person guiding the practice.
The Spiritual Practice
Begin by centering yourself in this present moment. Let go of all the racing thoughts and worries you have about everything going on in your busy life. Be here. (pause for silent reflection)
Now bring to mind the welcoming attitude of Jesus. Think of the way he sees those whom other religious figures have judged as evil or wrong. The way he looks at a prostitute and sees something good in her. The way he looks at a tax collector and sees something good in him. The way he prays that his crucifiers might be forgiven. Jesus looks at these people and sees past their sinful ways. He sees each of them as a beloved child of God. (pause for silent reflection)
Now bring to mind someone who you do not like. Someone with whom you disagree or think is evil. Someone who has wronged you or hurt you. Someone you might call your “enemy.” (pause for silent reflection)
Now imagine how Jesus might see this “enemy” of yours. Imagine the way that he might interact with this person despite the wrong that they have done. (pause for silent reflection)
Just as the religious figures in Jesus’ day could not love the sinners when they only saw these people for their sins, we too cannot love our enemies when we only see them for their sins. To love our enemies, we must learn to see as Jesus sees. Ask God to help you see through Jesus’ eyes. (pause for silent reflection)
Try to see this person the way that Jesus sees them. Think of them looking in the mirror as they brush their teeth each day. Think of them lying awake in bed each night for those few moments before falling asleep. Think of the way that they feel sadness and hurt the same way that all people feel sadness and hurt. Think of the way that they desire happiness the same way that all people desire happiness. Realize that this person exists as a real human being with their own God-given life. (pause for silent reflection)
Know that Jesus did not ignore sin or evil behavior. Nor did Martin Luther King Jr. brush aside the wrongdoing that he saw his enemies doing. Seeing through the eyes of Jesus does not mean disregarding sin, but it means recognizing that the sinner is defined by something greater than their sins. Each sinner is defined by the love of God that created them. By loving them for who they were created to be rather than hating and judging them for their wrong actions, we remind them of the love of God that is at the very center of their being.
Ask God to strengthen and renew your heart in love so that you might be able to see as Jesus sees. Ask God to give you peace next time you see this person instead of anxiety. Ask God to give you courage to respond to this person with love when it would be so much easier to respond with hate. Ask God to help you want to love this person. (pause for silent reflection)
Duration: 15-20 minutes
1. How was this practice for you? Was it challenging?
2. Were you able to see your “enemy” through Jesus’ eyes or was that too challenging? If not, know that praying for the desire to see your enemies this way is a transformative prayer itself.
3. Do you think praying in this way could actually help you act differently next time you are confronted with your enemy?