Good morning, happy Monday, and many blessings.
If I need to find a title for today’s Gospel, Matthew 5:38-42, I will go for: Jesus’ rule for revenge. Here Jesus draws their attention back to the Old Testament Principle of retribution that can be found in Exodus 21:22-27, Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 19:15-21.
Jesus gives four little mini scenarios to flesh out His point: if someone insults you, don’t insult back. V.39; Your stuff is not your stuff, so hold onto it loosely. V.40; If someone takes advantage of you, double their advantage. V.41; and, If you can help, do so even if it hurts you. V.42. As you read through this passage, it’s quite challenging, isn’t it? Why is it? Because It attacks our pride and vanity! If we lived like Jesus commands us, we would have to change a whole lot about how we respond to people who are insult us & take advantage of us. The way of Jesus is placing a higher value on humility and suffering than revenge. And anger is the biggest motivation for the revenge quest.
Paul, in Galatians 5:20-21, instructed “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” In 1 Corinthians 13, we are directed that love is patient and kind and does not dishonor others and is not easily angered. It can be reasoned that anger is contrary to charity if it is spontaneously meant to dishonor our neighbor. The Bible seems to place anger as the last response to the circumstances of life. The believer is to be a peacemaker and find a solution before allowing an incident or conflict to escalate.
Of course, it is very important not to confuse revenge with the quest of justice. Revenge is, by nature, personal; justice is impersonal, impartial, and both a social and legal phenomenon. The driving impetus behind revenge is to get even, to carry out a private vendetta, or to achieve what, subjectively, might be described as personal justice. If successful, the party perceiving itself as gravely injured experiences considerable gratification: their retaliatory goal has been achieved—the other side vanquished or brought to its knees. Just or not, the avenger feels justified. Their quest for revenge has “re-empowered” them and, from their biased viewpoint, it’s something they’re fully entitled to.
Revenge is about retaliation; justice is about restoring balance. The motive of revenge has mostly to do with expressing rage, hatred, or spite. It’s a protest or payback, and its foremost intent is to harm. In and of itself, it’s not primarily about justice but about victims’ affirming their inborn (but non-legal) right to retaliate against some wrong done to them.
Today's central gospel message is to stay away from revenge. And I feeds revenge because I don't want to forgive, I don’t want to let go. I have always said that forgiveness is the most elusive and difficult subject we can have in the church. We don't want to talk about it, and we don't want to accept it. I am thankful that God does not think the same as we do, because otherwise his wrath would be destroying me all day.As Christians, we are to follow Jesus’ command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Welcome to the praxis of radical discipleship of how to take revenge.