Today we receive the fifth antithesis, in which, Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mk 5:38-39). The Mosaic law, an eye for an eye, that Jesus first addressed was an attempt to curb the emotive response of revenge. If someone had killed a clan or tribal member, there would have been those who would choose to retaliate by inflicting as much carnage as possible to the people responsible, even up to and including the death of the whole clan or tribe, even the women and children. The rationale behind this was that there would then be no one to come back for revenge. The idea of seeking instead an eye for an eye was to temper the retribution to a more measured response.
Jesus though is saying that “an eye for an eye” does not go far enough, and raises the challenge of being his disciple to a higher level, being that even the thought of revenge is not to be considered. Jesus is not seeking to lessen the cycle of violence, he is giving us the means to end it. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of the teachings of Jesus. Instead of seeking revenge, Jesus is commanding that we seek to forgive those who have harmed us. We who pray the Our Father or the Lord’s prayer, are to take to heart and be mindful of the words we pray them, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
The urge for revenge is powerful and primal. Revenge is wired into our survival instinct to protect ourselves. Jesus invites us to grow beyond our mere instinctual responses and survival instincts. He is calling us to be a people who do not merely survive, but thrive. Jesus is seeking to infuse us with his divine life so that we will be transformed. This is true not only for ourselves but for those who would seek to do us harm. Instead of striking back with revenge, we are to be flexible and adept enough to instead appeal to their conscience. We are to take all that others throw at us, and meet them with the courage to stand and receive their worst, and disarm them with the blinding light of the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
This is no easy task, especially when we experience ongoing injustice and needless loss of life. To put into practice such teachings as the turning of the other cheek, we need to start small. We need to resist the immediate thoughts of revenge that arise for the smallest of offenses. When someone makes a snide remark, and/or offers demeaning or dehumanizing comments directed at us or others, we resist retaliating in kind, yet, we do hold them accountable, and remind the person of our dignity and/or the dignity of the person they seek to demean with the intent to lead them away from the perception of another person as being somehow other, to one of being a brother or sister.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to be a peacemaker, we need to be contemplatives in action even and especially in today’s current climate of unrest and dis-ease. We need to ground ourselves in prayer, return to these hard teachings of the Beatitudes and antitheses often, believe in them, meditate on them, keep them at the forefront of our mind and, with the courage and guidance of the Holy Spirit, put these teachings into action and practice. We will best be able to do so when we resist reactionary and hyperbolic responses so we are better able to see the truth and root of the challenges we face and then we can begin to bring about accountability, reconciliation, and structural change.
Some would say this is naive and impossible. It is true that we will not be able to resist thoughts and acts of revenge and walk the path of forgiveness on our will power alone. We need to surrender our ego and pride to Jesus, who as the Son of God became one with us so that we can be one with him. As we do so, he will begin to transform us as he forgives and loves in and through us.
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Photo: After Mass on the grounds of St Peter a few weeks ago
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, June 15, 2020

2 thoughts on “Revenge is not the answer Jesus gives us to bring about lasting change to injustice.

  1. Dear brother: I agree that revenge and hatred are not the solution to injustice – BUT – and this is a big BUT – there are too many people trying to evade the Gospel duty to clamor – and scream! – for justice by sheltering themselves behind a counterfeit and prostituted sense of “love” – a bland sentiment, eviscerated of all passion for justice – Let us hug and kiss, be nice to each other – don’t offend anyone – This “love” – emasculated and void of any prophetic testosterone, is not what Jesus preached – True evangelical love is perturbing, risky – subversive! – and it will rub many people wrong! – That is what took Jesus to the cross! – Jesus dared to tell people the uncomfortable truth, what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear – We do that, we will always be persecuted (Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” 92) – and, of course, who liked to be persecuted? But we are disciples of Jesus, and, sinful as we are, we are still bound to witness to the very perturbing truth of the Gospel – That is not a clamor for revenge, it is a demand for justice – and justice is a pre-condition for Love! – cf Benedict XVI, “Caritas in Veritate” Abrazo Sixto

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    • I agree with you that to hide in the “Let us hug and kiss, be nice to each other – don’t offend anyone –“ is not the love that Jesus preached or calls us to as his disciples. If I gave that impression then I have not lived up to proclaiming the Gospel as Jesus calls us to do as you shared above.

      I have sought to continue to share reflections on the Gospel readings each day not just in isolation as if they had no bearing on the events of our day but calling us to heed the teachings and words of Jesus. I felt in this one, it needed more work, because I may not have distinguished clearly enough that in not seeking revenge we still need to speak up and demand justice.

      I appreciate your holding me accountable and challenging me to speak “the very perturbing truth to the Gospel.” And I agree with you that demanding justice is not a clamor for revenge.

      I finished school last week. Not sure how you feel about getting together since we are still under the quarantine. I would look forward to spending time with you if you are open to it in person, but if that does not work with you maybe ZOOM. Let me know.

      Abrazo grande Serge

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