The only way a reader can truly appreciate and understand this commandment of Jesus, is by gazing into the looking glass of the Catholic perspective, which should make one proud to be in this faith. For when it comes to this puzzling question, no denomination except the Catholic faith, comes close enough to actually appreciating Jesus’ demand and provide an answer, based on reconciliation; one of the fundamental seven sacraments.
When praying for your victim, doesn’t seem fair
Of all people why does God insist that a victim needs to pray for his transgressor?!
To us, a victim is someone who has been wronged and because he has undergone unfair suffering, he is the first one who needs empathy, attention, love, healing and justice. In fact, he is even owed justice by the law, such that the transgressor is put to task, or punished as this feels fair and fitting.
However, a God who completely believes in justice, acts very strange in demanding that of all people, it is not so much a priest, prayer group leader, intercessor but the victim himself more than any one else who should pray for their transgressor! God not only allows the victim to be burdened, with the unjust act, but thereafter commands him to pray for his enemy (who has not bothered reconciling with him). So what is going on here? What gives, when God is literally demanding Mercy, that too from the feeble victim?!
Is it not true that the other name for God is love and that all His commandments are based on and are an expression of the fruit of love? Yet for the victim, this particular commandment seems to be the opposite of love and feels almost unjust, to the point of ludicrosity, even to those who empathize with the victim!
Understanding God’s demand for such intercession, through the victim
Sin is abominable in the eyes of God and even though the very first sin of Adam and Eve was an act of disobedience by eating the fruit, it costed them the loss of communion with God and eternal death, if Jesus did not save them.
Though, as per the first commandment, we must love God above all, but one way God demands that we show Him tender love, is by loving our fellow human beings who are weak, who need this love in the form of protection and care.
1 John 4:20, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
As finite creatures, when a person (even if he may be a regular church going Christian) seriously attacks us, it can either destroy or reduce our life or its quality. However, even if someone offended God, they cannot attack or reduce His life. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” – Matthew 25:40.
Now, if Adam and Eve’s offence to God, costed them to lose God as their Father and even eternal life, will the God who lives in you and me, not take very seriously the sin of anyone gravely harming another, because human beings are finite?
The difference in between forgiving a “brother” and an enemy, as advised by Jesus
We note that in Matthew 18:21-22, Peter approaches Jesus with a question whether he should forgive his brother or sister up to seven times but Jesus shockingly responds it should be seventy-seven times.
While brother or sister is a broad term for any and every one, here we understand that Peter speaks more in the context of a close person who may also be physically close to Peter, like a family member or relative. This person may have been regularly causing venial but nerving offenses to Peter, but not someone who was offending Peter with grave injustices on a regular basis. To this Jesus answers that Peter has to constantly forgive the offender and while He would like you to pray for him, Jesus is highlighting the most important point; forgiveness.
However, when it comes to enemies, meaning people who do not behave like brothers in only committing venial offences but rather gravely harming you, Jesus intensifies His commandment (of love). Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It goes without saying that Jesus wants you to forgive your enemy like you should your brother, but Jesus especially demands you are to love and pray for your enemy!
Yes God does not expect us to have a spontaneous emotional response of love for our enemy, in fact He knows we just cannot, but He expects us to make a decision to love. The greatest way is by forgiving your enemy, not harming but fervently praying for him!
How is confession connected with further understanding the command from Jesus to intercede for your victimizer?
Now, in the sacrament of confession, for each mortal sin, the offender is asking God for two pardons; offending God, who lives in the soul of the victim and offending the victim who is a child of God. While venial sins are absolved in the initial prayers of the mass, mortal sins can only be absolved in the confessional, because they have the power to drag us to hell fire, if gone unrepented and unconfessed. They only get absolved by the merits of Jesus’ death, for His sacrifice was an intercession before the Father for our souls, to save us from damnation.
Remember that God counts our every tear, our hair strands and knows how much we lose under the attack of anxiety. Because we are precious to God, weak and finite creatures (unlike God), when our enemy offends us, they stand under grave judgment before God and risk condemnation to eternal death! Now even though Jesus is the savior, the fact that they have gravely offended us and not reconciled, means they were not in the state of grace and may still lack grace, such that they may die without repentance, being lost forever, because of what they did to you!
God Jesus, who gave His life and interceded for them and all of us, who put Him to death on the cross, needs us too, just in the same way that He did, to intercede for our enemy.
We note that Jesus says, that if we pray for those who persecute us, we will be children of our Father in heaven! Why?
Because it was the Father’s actual begotten child, Jesus who did the same by accepting a tortuous death through our hands and yet interceded for our salvation while He was dying! Therefore when we follow Him, we too like Him, become the child of God.
So what is the great deal in becoming a child of God, in this way?
Jesus goes on to say that, if we love those who love us what reward will we get? This indicates that there will be a special reward for those victims, who treat their transgressors in the way Jesus did!
Jesus ends this teaching by saying, when you do this, you yourselves will become perfect like the Heavenly Father and this is why we need to intercede for our victimizers.
The sacrament of confession, is a sacrament of cleansing and when we intercede for our victim, we should especially intercede for his soul. When God sees that just like Jesus, amidst the pain our victimizer caused us, we continue to intercede for our enemy, it will rain down grace from God upon our enemy, whereby he will be moved into repentance. If he is a Catholic, he will bathe in the sacrament of penance and regain his salvation, allowing himself to be washed by the blood of Jesus. In this way the victim’s blood, pain and sacrifice, merged with Jesus’ own on the cross, is what is needed to snatch that soul from the evil one who is trying to snatch him from God.
Now, why should a victim bother doing this, is it simply because it is a command?
No, for Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…”
We too were enemies of God, but God came to save us and if verse 8 says that He did this to demonstrate His love for us who acted as His enemy, we too need to follow 1 John 4:20 and at least begin to intercede for our enemy.
Let us bear in mind again, it is not necessary to feel feelings of love and warmth towards our enemy, in fact we need to be prudent in maintaining adequate safe distance from them too (depending on the severity of the offense to us). Love is not an emotion, it is a sense of responsibility and a decision one takes. It is based on what they understand is lovingly expected of them, or when they realize if they did not take this responsibility of charity, things would most probably go down under in a big way for the other person. They do this realizing, this is exactly the charity Jesus showed them, on the cross.
Often when the victim begins to intercede for their enemy, out of this dutiful (not emotional) sense of love, God brings strength, healing and even peace to the victim, such that the victim may no longer live in fear of that enemy or the incident, but even have the courage to lovingly face or even interact one day with their transgressor.
Sometimes preachers, prayers, etc are not enough to save a soul who is deeply inclined to tumble down the steep mountain of sin. It may take grave offenses to a victim coupled with a charitable victim’s prayer, to cause the hand of God, to go forth and pull the transgressor out of the spiritual danger he is going headlong into. Just as God sent Jesus to intercede for us with His prayers and His death, the transgressor needs your additional help to join with Jesus’ similar sacrifice and take him to heaven.
Colossians 1:24,“ Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
This Christmas, let us take some time each day of the Christmas novena and during Christmas Mass, to offer the baby savior fervent prayers for our victimizers, so the come, Good Friday and Easter, they will be given a new life in Christ and be renewed!