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Abandoning Vengeance

Updated on April 4, 2020

If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” ~ William Shakespeare

The walls are closing in on Jeremiah in today’s 1st Reading (Jer 20:10-13), Jesus too for that matter in our Gospel (John 10:31-42). But it’s interesting to note the different reactions from both men as it pertains to their plight.

“I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side,’” laments Jeremiah. Those who were once his friends have suddenly turned against him, a fate that Jesus would of course suffer as well. He remains nonetheless resolute in his faith. “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion,” he says. “My persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”

He then however goes on to make this plea to God: “Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.”

Revenge. What is it about the human condition that so craves the misguided euphoria of vengeance?

I’m extremely reluctant to criticize one of my favorite Old Testament Prophets for his words in today’s Reading. Instead I can only relate to him, for I like many others have found myself from time to time desiring revenge as well. The great philosopher Charles Spurgeon once said “revenge, lust, ambition, pride, and self-will are too often exalted as the gods of man's idolatry; while holiness, peace, contentment, and humility are viewed as unworthy of a serious thought.”

This quote and the virtues espoused by Spurgeon are the perfect lead-in to today’s Gospel, wherein the angry Jewish mob, with rocks at the ready, were poised to stone Jesus for what they claimed were his blasphemous teachings, namely that he was the Son of God. But rather than calling down the wrath of the Father upon this blood thirsty horde, he opts instead to respond in a peaceful, holy and humble fashion. “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Ever the teacher, Jesus re-frames the message, attempting to appeal to their common sense. He never stops trying to bring others to God through him, even in the face of death, even if it meant ~ as it did in this specific instance ~ temporarily and humbly vacating his own glory so that others may be saved.

Tomorrow marks the 52nd Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. amongst his many prolific quotes, Dr. King once said “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Jesus’ ministry reflected and emanated the love which Dr. King speaks of. Jesus “bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that dead to sin, we might live for righteousness. In his wounds we have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24).

....a righteousness that abandons vengeance for love.

We adore you O Christ and we praise you. For by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

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