The “them” is “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I’ll tell you, the concepts Jesus taught are so radical it’s no wonder he was both amazingly popular and singularly hated at the same time!
I just finished listening to an interview between Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson. Prager identifies himself as Jewish; Peterson identifies himself as a “Christian” who does not believe in God. (Not sure how that’s possible, but there you have it.) So, I don’t exactly agree with either of these men spiritually, because I do believe in God, and I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah. However, despite religious differences, I still respect what they are attempting to do, which is to live out their understanding of truth, and most of their understanding of truth comes from both the Judeo-Christian scriptures (which they believe is corroborated by their research and life experiences).
Although I’m not politically savvy, it was obvious from their discussion that Peterson has come under a lot of fire for his stand against “political correctness” pressuring American and Canadian society to conform to speech regulations that are contrary to “biblical correctness.” I haven’t followed either of these men closely enough to know what all they believe or teach, but one clear message that came out of the interview was that Peterson is both immensely popular and immensely hated. He mentioned that at one time 200 of his fellow colleagues signed a petition trying to have him fired from his position at the university where he was teaching. But, in the next breath, he said that no matter where he goes, people thank him—often with a great deal of emotion—for what he’s taught about the fact that we are individuals who are responsible for our own lives and decisions and need to accept and act on our personal responsibility for self-control and self-improvement.
I definitely agree with Peterson’s understanding of individual person-hood and responsibility, and the great ambivalence surrounding Jordan Peterson helps me understand the tremendous emotional upheaval that Jesus caused. The religious leaders hated him, and the common people—who experienced the healing benefit of his teachings—loved him.
I have no clue if Peterson prays for those who despitefully use him and persecute him, but I know that’s what Jesus did . . . and what he tells us to do. Peterson professed being afraid to say he believed in God, because if he truly believed, he would have to live out the Christian faith, which seems impossibly hard to him. In fact, it is impossibly hard, but that is okay. Jesus died to bridge the gap between our best and perfection. We are works in progress. We are challenged to be perfect, but we fall short. Jesus paid the price for our failures. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to become a child of God through faith in Christ. But, just like Jesus, we have the wonderful capacity to find help and grace through God who helps us take responsibility for self-control and self-improvement! Through God we can learn how to humbly “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
We may end up dying for what we believe, like Jesus, or we may end up with a thrilling triumph of good over evil (such as I’m going to write about this coming Tuesday). Either way, it is our job to be faithful to the truth as we understand it, to do good and not evil to others, and to pray for (rather than physically bully or attack) those who oppose us.
Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:45, “and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Luke 6:27, “Pray for them which despitefully use you.”
(Reproduction of the painting, “Jesus Praying in Gethsemane,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com)