Yeshua told disciples that, if they want to enter the kingdom, they must love their enemies, bless them instead of cursing them, and do good to them instead of evil. He told His disciples to pray for their persecutors: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
The principle of loving one’s enemies is not a call to pacifism, nor does it ask us to conjure up warm feelings of affection for those who hate us and mistreat us. One is not required to like his enemy. The love we are to express toward our enemies consists of acts of kindness which accord the enemy common dignity and recognize his basic humanity. The instruction to love an enemy applies on a personal level of individual interaction. Our Master did not mean that nations and governments should appease aggressors with acts of loving kindness.
Yeshua told his disciples to pray for their enemies. A fragmentary saying of the Master discovered on papyrus in the deserts of Egypt puts it this way: “Pray for your enemies, for he who is not against you is for you. He that stands far off today will tomorrow be near you.”
The Didache takes the matter a step further and instructs the believer to go so far as fasting on behalf of one’s enemy:
Pray for your enemies; fast for those who persecute you, for what special favor do you merit if you love those who love you? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? However, you are to love those who hate you, and you will not have any enemies. (Didache 1:3)
Do not hate any human being; but some you are to rebuke, and some you are to pray for, yet some you are to love even more than your own life. (Didache 2:7)
The disciples took Yeshua’s words literally and prayed for their persecutors. Thanks to those prayers, their most fierce pursuer, Paul of Tarsus, later became a believer and a strong advocate for their faith. Years later, Paul instructed the believers in Rome to show love for their enemies:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse … If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. (Romans 12:14, 20)
The Talmud also relates a story which illustrates the power of prayer for those who persecute you and vex you.
Once there were some bandits living near Reb Meir who were very troublesome to him. Reb Meir prayed that they should die. His wife Beruria said to him, “What makes you think a prayer like that is permissible? … Instead you should pray for them that they will repent, and then there will be no more wicked.” Meir prayed for them, and they repented. (b.Berachot 10a)
This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion.