There’s the comic book character with the adorable pet pup, and there’s this Charlie Brown. This Charlie Brown was a rookie U.S.fighter pilot in World War II. On his first mission, he flew just above a German anti-air station into a buzz saw of enemy fire. On the ground, one of Germany’s ace pilots was refueling. His name was Franz Stigler.

Franz saw a U.S. plane fly overhead, and he couldn’t wait to get back in the pilot’s seat. He was getting ready to add one more downed enemy plane to his résumé. Franz topped off and took off. He was ready to shoot the enemy down when he couldn’t believe what he saw. Someone got toCharlie’s Brown plane before he did. The tail gunner was dead, another member was hit in the leg, another in the eye, and Charlie was hit in the shoulder. When Charlie Brown and his crew saw the German plane, they knew they were toast. But Franz never fired.

He tried to divert the plane to a German airfield to get them to surrender, but they didn’t want to land in a German airfield. He tried to get them to fly to Sweden where they would be safe, but Sweden was a no go. So Franz risked his own life and flew in a formation on Charlie’s left wing so the other Germans wouldn’t shoot Charlie down as he escorted the enemy plane to open water.

Once Charlie was safe, Franz pulled away and flew away with a salute. After the war, these two enemies reunited and became
fast friends for nearly twenty years before Franz died. For a heart-warming moment in 1943, Franz Stigler obeyed Jesus’ seeming impossible command to love your enemies. People are still hailing his story as World War II’s most incredible encounter. Whether Franz ever heard of Jesus or not, he obeyed Jesus’ command to love your enemies. It was much easier for Franz to love his neighbor who wore the same uniform and flew the same flag. Not so much to love his enemy, but he did.

When Jesus told the multitude on the mount they needed to love their enemies, they couldn’t believe their ears. They didn’t need their imagination because their enemies weren’t just metaphors; they were real. Their enemies were the Roman soldiers who invaded their city and patrolled their streets.

“Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”It’s been a minute since I’ve heard a prayer request for an enemy. When someone asks for prayer requests, we don’t think of the kids in homeroom who make fun of the way we dress or who curse the name of the Jesus we bless. We don’t think of the woman at work who curses because she knows we don’t. Or the guy who blows smoke in our faces because he knows we won’t fight back.

Love your enemies were some of Jesus’ first words in His ministry: His opening sermon. If we fast forward three and a half years through all the miracles and parables, we’ll come to His last words. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, fighting for every labored breath, He pushed Himself up against the unforgiving timber of the cross and prayed, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” It’s one thing to preach “Love your enemies,” it’s another to practice it.

Maybe that person who persecutes you is pushing you, not because they hate you, but maybe they want to see if what you have is really real. If you fight back just like everyone else, they’ll assume Jesus can’t change their life because He didn’t really change yours. Through the power of God’s Spirit, we must live radically different than this world.

When you’re going through your prayer list this week, add a couple names of people not like you who don’t like you. If you search your mind and can’t think of one enemy, thank God. But if you can think of anyone you wouldn’t mind seeing stuck in a snowbank for a few hours—you might even smile at the thought—pray for them.

This simple statement near the end of Matthew 5 lives time zones away from simple. But God’s grace and Spirit will makethis impossible command possible.