Tough Love

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)

Revenge

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:

Love

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.

Lord,
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
I perceive
have been done to me.
Yet you ask me to give
and keep on giving,
to love
and keep on loving
and to pray
for those who hurt me,
in fact
to act like you.

So I pray
for your help,
your strength,
your love,
to be in me
and through me

Take my life, my love, my all

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11 thoughts on “Tough Love

  1. I love the insights you share here but feel that you back off a bit in the area of forgiveness for ‘terrible things’. While I also understand ‘those who find it hard to personally forgive those who have done terrible things to them’ and personally I even find it hard to forgive those who have done not-at-all-terrible-things to me, I do believe that this is where Jesus is pushing us, especially in the second passage you use here. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily equate to reconciliation, but it does set us free – as you say, it’s about the power they have over us if we don’t let it go. Regarding revenge: God says that vengeance belongs to him. If I try to get my own back, then am I taking what rightly belongs only to God? Not at all simple concepts to grasp, nor easy practices to maintain!!

    1. Thanks for commenting.

      I realised I backed off in the forgiveness of ‘terrible things’ mainly because it is not something I feel qualified to speak about. I have no experience of such things, and so don’t feel it is my place to tell others what they should and should not do, apart from the overarching themes. I am very aware that being told what to do in such situations is not helpful and a place of forgiveness needs to be arrived at, not preached. And like you say – I find it hard enough to forgive little things and not hold on to them!
      A very difficult concept, and a very personal one. go. God’s call is to forgive, bit that is often a journey, and healing of self is tied up in it, working both ways – forgiveness brings healing and healing brings forgiveness – otherwise we can never move on.
      Thanks again for your thoughts

      1. without going into details, I’m qualified to comment where Pam isn’t. Forgivenss can’t be forced, as Pam says. And until I reached the point of being able to – which wasn’t until I’d faced and felt the totally appropriate anger – anger shared by God – that I’d been so abused and suggestion that I should or ought to forgive simply rubbed salt in the wound and increased a sense of inapproprate guilt.
        In my (painful) experience, God holds us and loves us and holds us and loves us and then holds us and loves us some more until His love has begun to melt the barriers of fear and we feel safe enough to feel the anger and pain. Then after _that_ forgiveness is possible. But it can take years – decades – a lifetime. Forgiveness isn’t a magic pill or potion which can be prescribed.
        thanks to you both. 🙂

      2. I absolutely agree and you put it very well. I have no experience either and wouldn’t dream of dictating to individuals in their own situations. Was just commenting on what I see as one of the ‘overarching themes’. I read further and saw that you put it much better than I did in one of your other posts ‘Not being a Doormat’, from 2011.

      3. Thanks!
        It’s interesting how we come at the same passages differently on different day and from different places – otherwise there would be no point preaching I don’t suppose, we would know what each passage meant, whereas for the time being we are exploring an travelling together with God

  2. I meant to add that therefore in a blog post where you’ve no idea who’ll be reading it or where they might be in a painful journey, I reckon Pam’s softly-softly approach is spot on. At least, it has been for me over the past couple of years…

    1. Thanks Dorothy. I think that’s it entirely. And some of this stuff Jesus said is hard. We’re talking ultimate not immediate

    2. Just noticed that my other reply comment looks to be not quite in the right order in the conversation. Wanted to say to Dorothy that I absolutely agree with what you say too. Jesus understands the pain of being badly treated and he is qualified to comment. He does make general comments and give general instructions, but he also has the ability and sensitivity to deal with each of us individually in our distinct situations.

      1. Thank you both for entering into the conversation. It’s by discussing these tricky passages that together we can tease out what Jesus was meaning and what it means where we are today.

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