Hatred and Revenge
Homily for February 19, 2017 7th Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from last week discussing six commands taken from the Mosaic Law which were examples of the conduct Jesus demanded from his disciples. If you remember, last week Jesus began by addressing those who thought that, because of his actions and teachings, he was going to abolish the Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets. He stated that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law and the prophecies made about Him.
He then clarified the six commands, beginning each of them with “You have heard that it was said…” and then stating the law. Then, with a “But I say to you…” he proceeded to either expand or deepen the command to make it even more all-encompassing, or replaced it with something more important as a standard of conduct that his disciples were to follow. These six commands are all relational, dealing with how we are to treat each other – commands about anger, desire, divorce, honesty, revenge and hatred.
Today’s Gospel addresses the last two commands, which address very common but deadly attitudes for today’s Christians: Revenge and Hatred. I think Jesus is very clear about God’s position on these two points, and I’m not sure I like what He had to say. Of the six commands that he taught about, these two are the hardest for me personally to deal with. Sure, anger is tough and often leads to revenge and hatred, but it is these last two which can be the hardest for people to overcome, since their emotional intensity can totally blind us to the need for God’s mercy. I used to tell people when I was pranked in my younger days, “I don’t get angry, I get even. And I hold a grudge until I do”. And I was ruthless.
Take Revenge. Despite all of our talk about mercy, how often do we want “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” when dealing with someone who has wronged us personally or has done something that offends our sense of right and wrong? Do we really believe in the value of reconciliation and rehabilitation? How often do we see or hear in the news about the protests and riots which demand action against someone even before they’ve received a fair trial? And if it something that is or seems to be terribly evil, we really want to punish them – hurt them – beyond just an “eye for an eye”.
And Hatred of Enemies. How can I not hate my enemy? I’m assuming that there must be some reason that I call them “my enemy” – usually it is because they are some sort of threat to me or to those I love. Embracing someone who has expressed a desire to harm me in some way just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do, does it?
I don’t think so. Yet that is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do.
So what motivates us to hatred and revenge? While anger probably and usually plays a significant part, I think it is mostly fear that causes us to hate others, or to seek retribution from another so that we don’t have to face the situation that harmed us again. Fear does more harm to us than any other emotion, which is why Jesus so often said, “Do not be afraid.”
We can become impulsive or irrational when we are afraid, and the evil that results from our failure to recognize Jesus’ wisdom in teaching about these two commands challenges our Christian faith more than anything else we face. Fear blinds us to the command to “Love God and Love our Neighbor”, and we risk losing our eternal soul if we allow our fear to prevent us doing as Jesus commanded, especially seen through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy which are demanded of us for those who we fear or hate.
And yet, as a people, a nation, we are responding to the events around us in fear, and that fear has led us to anger, hatred and revenge. All we have to do is look at the current headlines in the news and how we respond to any of the many issues facing our country today to see the hatred and the anger that permeates our society. We say we seek “justice”, but that’s just another word for revenge. We are about as far from the model of discipleship outlined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as the pagans were from the first Christians.
St. Paul said to the Romans, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”
Can you respond in love to the neighbor you struggle with? Are you caring for those that you hate? Do you pray for those you are afraid of? Really pray for them and not against them? Are you allowing the good in your life to conquer the evil that you face?
You must, if you are a Christian.