Revenge is about in some way feeling that you have got your own back for something that you perceive has been done wrong to you. According to common wisdom, revenge is a dish best served cold, yet that implies careful pre-mediation of what you are going to do, rather than a simple knee-jerk reaction.
Jesus had something quite different to say about revenge…
Matthew 5:38-48 (CEV)
38 You know that you have been taught, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39 But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek. 40 If someone sues you for your shirt, give up your coat as well. 41 If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. 42 When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, lend it to them.
He says, when someone does something to you, not to try to get even, but to offer them something else too. What is Jesus thinking now? Surely if someone has abused you, stolen from you or demanded something unreasonable, you don’t offer them even more? This makes no sense. What about justice and rightful punishment? What about the damage that has been done to me? I don’t think this precludes that, it just takes the responsibility for feeling we need to wreak vengeance from us.
I wonder if this is about power? If we give, the person who steals no longer has power over us, we are choosing to give up, and are not getting caught up in thinking only how we can retaliate. We let the situation go free. This may not effect the person who has wronged us, but it will affect my life. It also shows freedom of possession.
But Jesus goes further:
43 You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” 44 But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. 45 Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. 46 If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. 47 If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? 48 But you must always act like your Father in heaven.
These are such hard passages to understand, probably even more so to act on, but this is my attempt. I’d welcome anyone else’s thoughts…
We are to love those who we believe to be our enemies and to pray for anyone who mistreats us. He is turning around the justification to hate anyone. Because life is not black and white. There’s nothing special in loving those who love you – that is easy. God asks more of us. I understand entirely those who find it hard to personally forgive those who have done terrible things to them, but I don’t think that is what this is about, in fact to suggest it is, is an abuse of God’s word. But I think Jesus is challenging us to not look for excuses to dislike people, asking us not to devise our own punishments when we think it is necessary, but to look on people with his love.
As in all this weeks readings, we are being asked to think and act like God, to live the ways he asks us to, which are actually the best and healthiest way for us to live. We are not to be deciding the right thing to do, but to seek God’s way in all things.
I come to you for guidance
and I come to you for love.
I do not have
the inner strength and resources
to look beyond the wrongs
have been done to me.
Yet you ask me to give
and keep on giving,
and keep on loving
and to pray
for those who hurt me,
to act like you.
So I pray
for your help,
to be in me
and through me