REVENGE!! Revenge forms the basic plot for most “guy movies”. The bad guy hurts the girl and that was his big mistake. He should have never messed with Arnold or Clint. Arnold says, “I’ll be back!” Clint says, “Go ahead, make my day!”
Revenge drives a lot of TV shows and movies. “Don’t get angry, get even!” Some go so far as to say, “Get angry AND get even!”
Today’s Gospel (Matt 5:38-48) is a tough Gospel, maybe as tough a Gospel as there is. Jesus asks us to go against the most seductive part of our human nature – GETTING EVEN!
It applies to the relative we won’t talk to, the former spouse we say nasty things about to our children, and the person at work we bad-mouth because he or she got the promotion we were after. REVENGE! And that’s just on the home front.
Then there’s the Sunni’s and the Shiites, the Moslems and the Christians, the Israelis and the Palestinians. And we can’t forget the politicians in Washington who want to get even with the Democrats and the Republicans. The list goes on and on feeding the most seductive part of our human nature – GETTING EVEN!!
We listen to Jesus PREACHING to us today. But Jesus PRACTICED what he preached. He both forgave the people who crucified him and he made excuses for them. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Jesus quotes the Mosaic Law that says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” When this was originally stated, it was a call to moderation. In ancient times, tribes and armies imposed double revenge or more. Sadly, that is the natural tendency of the human heart.
But Jesus goes beyond moderation: “I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Jesus says that “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one as well.”
Of course, this saying can be misused. It has caused some people to remain in an abusive situation and to become a battered spouse or a beleaguered nation living under an oppressive dictator.
But to bring about change, a real and a lasting change, Jesus’ words, “Turn the other cheek,” are right on, especially as a non-violent way of bringing about social change. Jesus is not a dreamy idealist. He does not tell us to hold hands, affirm the other person’s goodness and sing Kumbaya – and then everything will be okay. Jesus is a realist. He knows more than any of us – what works – what really works – in the long run.
There is an old Pogo cartoon that is often quoted: “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”
Jesus’ final command has disturbed and challenged everyone for 2,000 years: “You have heard it said, love your neighbor, hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”
Jesus is not saying to love our enemies with the same love we have for family and friends. That love is called Eros or Philein. He asks us to show an Agape love – a love of sincere goodwill.
An Agape love is not one of feelings. It is a love that is a decision. Abraham Lincoln was asked why he did not hate his enemies in the South. Lincoln responded: “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
Love of enemies is not a sign of weakness, but an expression of moral and spiritual strength. Jesus was a good psychologist. He knew we had a deep need to forgive, especially our enemies. Jesus taught that love possesses a healing balm. Revenge and hate make us sick – mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Years ago a widow from another parish came to see me. She was about 60-years old and her husband had died of a sudden heart attack 10 years previously. He owned and operated a successful business, or so everyone thought. Three days after his funeral the accountants came and told her that the business was insolvent. He had never even hinted to her that it was bankrupt.
She rolled up her sleeves and with help from the bank she worked night and day for 10 years to save the business.Every Sunday as she left church her pastor remarked about the wonderful husband she had, how successful he was, and how she must miss him dearly. Her children and everyone else had him on a pedestal when they spoke of him.
When she came to see me after 10 years of hard labor day and night to save the business, a bitterness and a hate toward him had built up inside of her. She told me that I was the first person she had ever said a word to about her husband and the business. I asked her how she felt. She said she felt she had a rock of hate the size of a bowling ball inside of her. She literally did. Three months later her doctor told her she had a large malignant tumor in her stomach.
Hate makes us sick. Love possesses a healing balm. Jesus Knows Best! The most difficult words we pray every day are found in the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The archaic word, “trespass”, means to “cross the line.”
When we pray the Our Father we are saying that we will forgive those “who cross the line” in our lives, so that we too might be forgiven for the times we too “cross the line”. If we refuse to forgive and demand a “tooth for a tooth”, then we want revenge more than we want Jesus in our hearts.
The basic question we need to ask ourselves today is: “WHO do I want to be for the rest of my life?” Do I want to be a critical, cynical person who refuses to forget for a minute that so and so who owes me some money, who owes me an apology, who owes me a phone call, or who owes me a dinner invitation? These are the common places in our lives where we need to muster heroic levels of patience, forgiveness and love for our own mental, spiritual and emotional health and the happiness of those around us. It’s time for you and me to move on!!
WHO do YOU want to be for the rest of YOUR life?
DON’T BLOCK YOUR BLESSINGS BY SEEKING REVENGE ON PEOPLE WHO WRONGED YOU. LET IT GO! TRUST GOD TO FIGHT ALL OF YOUR BATTLES!!