- Matt 5:38-42
- Teaching about Retaliation
More often we are hurt, wronged and we feel the need to personally see to it that someone pays for the hurt that they have caused. But in the process if we take vengeance we hinder our own freedom and enjoyment of life by holding on to un-forgiveness. What is more hurtful is that, the other person is not even aware of our feelings and attitude and the more we are hurt. That is why I like this Spanish proverb that says: “To return evil for good is devilish. To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is godlike.”
We are aware that there are many movies made on the theme of vengeance. Besides financial profits, the reason why there are many movies made because it appeals to our basic instincts and we think that vengeance is so natural. Yet Jesus in today’s gospel forbids us to do it. It is because vengeance is unnatural, spontaneous, instinctive and mechanical. If vengeance is natural it can help us to be more human. But vengeance makes us less open to a loving relationship with others and it goes against to who we are, that we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is love by nature (1Jn 4:8, 16). Jesus invites us to become more human by transcending the automatic reflex of vengeance and live up to our eminent dignity as children of God. Somebody had said that this, no doubt, is not always easy. But it is the only road that leads to life and happiness.
Jesus gives a new standard based not just on the requirements of justice, that is, giving each his due, but based on the law of grace and love. Jesus also makes clear that there is no room for retaliation. We must not only avoid returning evil for evil, but we must seek the good of those who wish us ill.
And so what makes a Christian different from everyone else?
First, a Christian practices virtues and all virtues demand self-denial. Yes, following Christ is not easy especially in a world that encourages one to aggressively seek revenge before injustice. But Christ commands us to imitate Him in loving our enemies. He tells us to love even those who slander us, accuse us falsely, persecute and manipulate us. He says: “This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you love for one another” (John 13: 35).
Second, a Christian always desires to take action. This means, as somebody said, more than not speaking poorly, but speaking positively of others. More than not desiring to see others fail, but acting to see others succeed. More than just feeling sorry for the poor, the sick and the souls lost in sin, but taking concrete steps to see them better, consoled, on the right paths. Again somebody also said: “Let’s not waste our energy criticising what is wrong; let’s just do our own work to the best of our ability. If it’s any good it will displace what is bad.” This must be true not only of work but of everything.
Third, a Christian practices charity. Charity does not mean giving the leftovers to others that ask us for them. It means living for others, giving ourselves constantly to them, giving what it hurts to give. Somebody said that we can even mislead ourselves by serving others as a subtle means for serving ourselves. The true follower of Christ needs to make a radical break with this selfishness in order to be more like the Master.
Epictetus said: “Forgiveness is better than revenge, for forgiveness is the sign of a gentle nature, but revenge is the sign of a savage nature.”