We all have them.
People who rub us the wrong way.
Either on purpose or by aggravating personality traits.
They behave badly.
They are unkind.
Being around them causes hives. Or heart palpitations. Or lockjaw.
We know we are supposed to be the better person, but oh, how they bring out the worst in us!
And to make matters worse, they are wrong. And we are right. And that's not just perception, it's reality. People should not be able to get away with behaving that way.
Let's consider for a moment that these people are not part of our lives so we can make them better people. Let's consider that it is entirely possible that all the kindness and prayer we return to these people will not change them. Let's consider that confrontation and returning the bad behavior will not alter their behavior. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but what we are looking at is the possibility that these people are not in our lives for their benefit, but rather for ours.
Isn't this just a nice way of saying adversity builds character? Well, yes. And nobody wants to hear that. We want permission to retaliate, confront, attack, slice them out of our lives. We want permission because deep down, we know it's not the right thing to do. Certainly boundaries are required, so it limiting your exposure to toxic people, but that other stuff... Sorry.
"Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you." We all know that part, but the end of Luke's passage bears some careful reading as well. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them... But love your enemies, do good to them... Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Your reward will be great. Unfortunately, this is not a promise of earthly reward or that we get to see justice served on a platter. It's a promise that as a child of the Most High, you'll be blessed. When we return good for evil, we're storing up treasures in heaven, and that is not contingent upon the other person. Their long term behavior is inconsequential in heavenly accounting.
Because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. He's talking about our Sandpaper People, but more than that, he's talking about us. We are absolutely guilty of treating God like other people have treated us. We blame him for things that aren't his fault. We use his name falsely. We use him as a holy vending machine: insert supplication, receive blessing. We neglect our relationship, and only call on him when we need something. We don't say thank you. We don't acknowledge his presence. We defy his authority. The list goes on and on, right?
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Mercy can be defined as not getting something you deserve. Do our Sandpaper People deserve kindness and compassion? Of course not. But then again, neither do we. God showed us mercy when he sent his son to die in our place. We must be merciful as well. Not in the hope that Sandpaper People will change for the better; not motivated out of watching the righteous hand of justice fall so we can be vindicated here on earth; but because in showing mercy we become more like Christ.
It's still going to hurt. It's still going to be hard, but the end result is Christ-likeness, so isn't that worth it? Just a little?