JOPLIN, Mo. —
Commonly referred to as "The Jefferson Bible," Thomas Jefferson's "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" is a book constructed by the third U.S. president himself.
With a sharp scalpel-like instrument, Jefferson detached sections of Scripture that he deemed believable and pieced together his own version of the Bible. This book is housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
While the vast majority of us would balk at doing that, the truth is that each of us have some sort of our own version of the Bible. We may not intend this, but in effect, we do so when we draw primarily from favorite verses and stories and ignore others.
An example of this is the instruction that we care and pray for our enemies. I myself am an example of someone who neglects these instructions. Reviewing my sermons, I note that I occasionally take a stab at this matter, but I have not dealt directly with the question of who is my "enemy" and how should I care and pray for him.
I can rationalize things and say that in these modern times, my enemies are those who are enemies of my country living across seas. I can say that I care about the people in those far-away countries, with whom I have little if any contact.
But I have a nagging suspicion that what Jesus said involves more than just caring for enemies who are far away.
I do not have to look far and wide for situations in my life to which this issue applies. Truthfully, we do assail one another about beliefs and lifestyles, especially when they encroach upon long-held values. We often respond to these enemies close to home with an intensity of feeling that approaches hatred.
We must reflect upon what Jesus says about this, especially as we become more and more divided in our community and nation. This calls for more than mere tolerance. We are expected to care for and pray for those who oppose and assail us.
This "caring and praying for" our enemy is maddening. We feel good when we vent our fear and anger, and giving up those feelings is difficult.
But we must. More and more we are learning that hatred and negativity is harmful to our physical health, not to mention our spiritual well-being.
So, how do we do learn to care? Recall the story of Jesus looking out over a crowd of people and feeling compassion because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd.
You can bet he saw a lot of human ruination that day. But he focused beneath the ugliness and looked upon the person.
We can take this and imagine that deep within all people there is a self that is loved by God. With time and effort, we can learn to care for those who oppose us and challenge who we are.
So, how do we pray for those who oppose us? Perhaps a reason the second greatest commandment ranks so high is because it is appropriate for this occasion.
If the tables are turned, and I am considered someone's enemy, I would want them to attempt to understand me. I would hope they would give me consideration. How I would want to be treated becomes the guide to my prayer regarding my enemy.
The focal point of the Good Samaritan story is the enmity between Jews and Samaritans. Those who heard the story were shocked that a Samaritan would care for his enemy.
Imagine a world of this understanding.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.