Can We Pray For Our Enemies?
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ 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." ¾ Matthew 5:43-44.
"I won’t!" screamed Sam, interrupting the Catechism lesson on forgiveness, after the teacher had just finished commenting on the above scripture reading by saying that we should even pray for the salvation of our enemies.
"What’s that?" the Teaching Sister looked at Sam over her bifocals.
"I said, I won’t pray for Joey to be saved!" Sam repeated even louder.
At this point, the teacher, who had been about to launch into a reiteration of the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) as the curricula materials indicated, then realized that this was one of those times that one must deviate from the lesson plan or else lose the class. If she merely ordered Sam to be quiet, or used the old ruler-on-the-knuckles strategy, then everyone might think that Sam had a reason to doubt everything else she was trying to teach.
Furthermore, the problems brewing between Sam and Joey were in need of attention since they had already disrupted the class several times before and she had not as yet had a chance to take each aside (perhaps with their parents as well) to deal with it. Joey was the class bully and Sam the smallest boy who, for that reason, frequently was the victim of Joey’s pranks and mischief.
Stalling for time, she began asking Sam some questions, hoping that the time given or the responses might provide a chance to persuade Sam to forgive Joey and be willing to pray for his salvation. She started by asking him, "Don’t you want Joey to go to Heaven?"
"No, I don’t want Joey to go to Heaven. I want him to go to Hell."
"How can you say that? You shouldn’t want anyone to go to Hell. Do you want me also to go to Hell?"
"Not you or anyone else, just Joey!"
"Why is that?"
"Because he keeps shooting spitwads at me, he put bubble gum on my seat, …" Sam launched into a litany of all the terrible things Joey had been doing to him.
"Yes, but what has all of that got to do with whether or not Joey goes to Heaven?"
"Because Heaven would be just terrible if it had anyone like Joey in it. If he goes to Heaven, then I would rather go to Hell."
At this point, the teacher knew exactly where to go with this. She would entirely scrap the lesson plan that day and give the class, through this incident, a lesson on the nature of Heaven, Hell, Salvation, and being good which would help the whole class to see the value of praying for one’s enemies, since almost the whole class was beginning to nod in agreement with Sam, except for Joey himself who glared at Sam with an "I’ll get you for that" look on his face.
In the seasoned wisdom of her many years as a Catechism teacher, she continued the questioning without letting the students know that it was only at that moment that she figured out where to go with this interruption.
"What do you think salvation is?" she asked Sam.
"Salvation means you get to go to Heaven," Sam replied.
"And Damnation means you have to go to Hell," Peter, another boisterous student, piped in, feeling a necessity to complete the information on Heaven and Hell.
"That’s enough, Peter," she rebuked Peter sharply for interrupting, "This is for Sam to answer." She then continued:
"Yes, that is true that to be finally saved is to end up in Heaven, and yes, as Peter said, to be finally damned is to end up in Hell. But who do you think God lets into Heaven?"
"The good people who obey God’s commandments."
"Very good. So what does that mean you must do to get to Heaven?"
"It means that I must be good and obey God’s commandments in order to get to Heaven."
"Very good. So how do we know in this life whether you are going to Heaven or not?"
"If I am being good and obeying God’s commandments."
"Wouldn’t that be, in a sense, what having salvation would mean while you are still in this life, before it is time to go to Heaven?"
"I suppose so."
"So, if someone were praying for your salvation, would that not mean that they are praying for God to help you be good and obey His commandments?"
"I guess so."
"It is so. If you were doing bad, if, for example YOU were shooting spitwads at someone or putting bubble gum on their seat, you couldn’t very well be allowed to go into Heaven, now would you? God doesn’t allow spitwads in heaven, nor any other kinds of meanness or mischief."
"I guess not."
The teacher now had Sam right where she wanted him. She then asked him, "Now, did you think that praying for Joey’s salvation meant praying for God to let Joey into Heaven while still being the sort of bully who shoots spitwads and so forth?"
"But now you know that God doesn’t want Himself and His friends, the Holy Saints in Heaven, all covered with spitwads forever and ever, right?"
"So, the only way for Joey to be saved," the teacher caught Joey’s eye to make sure he was listening, "is for Joey to stop being the sort who cannot be allowed into Heaven. He needs to stop doing those bad things which are not allowed in Heaven. So if," she then turned back to Sam, "you pray for Joey’s salvation, what you are really praying for is for Joey to stop being such a bully and become your friend instead.
It was now Joey’s turn to talk. "But if I am nice to Sam, the other kids will laugh at me and make fun of me."
"I don’t think that’s true, but let’s pretend for a moment that it is. If you start being good to Sam, for the sake of pleasing God, and the other kids begin laughing at you, then all that means is that you need to start praying for their salvation."
After that, Joey was silent, and so was Sam. At the beginning, it was asked if we can pray for our enemies. Knowing all this, how can we NOT pray for our enemies?
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