Vengeance is Mine!
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) | Fr Luke Doherty exhorts us to abandon vengeance in every aspect of our lives.
Who really believes in not seeking revenge? There is something about vengeance which seems to affect most people, at some point. Then again, ‘affect’ implies something acting on us. In fact, our desire for revenge seems rather to be hard-wired into us, part of our fallen human condition. That is probably why there are plenty of films, novels and other works of literature which explore revenge. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the greatest and well-known plays which explores such a theme. Many other writers have examined this aspect of human nature. Whether that is in the form of creating obstacles for others, seeking compensation, or indeed exacting revenge through violence or even murder.
Arguably, vengefulness is part of original sin. Our quest for revenge if we are wronged is something most people instinctively seek. Yet, the command of Jesus to ‘turn the other cheek’ implies the opposite sort of reaction to what most people would do if they were struck on the face. These instances of revenge can be playground responses such as children fighting, or it can be something of a much greater magnitude.
For most of us, our moral responsibilities are about our relation between friends, family, neighbours or work colleagues. Then there are grudges or a desire for revenge that we may hold in a political sense. If we are serious about ‘turning the other cheek’ then there is the need for us to learn to practice forgiveness and reconciliation in difficult areas. For instance, accepting a process of reconciliation for crimes committed decades ago in civil war is part of a truthful acceptance of Christ’s teachings. Then there are grudges held regarding economic injustices in the past – these are also difficult to forgive. All of this of course needs to be balanced with the virtues of wisdom and prudence.
Catholic teaching on vengeance is also inconvenient for some. For instance, the Magisterium opposes the inherent threat of devastating violence which is the basis of maintaining a nuclear weapons programme. Yet, there seem to be many Catholics who make no effort towards pursuing nuclear disarmament. Even the name of one of the nuclear submarines of the UK Trident fleet – HMS Vengeance – is a case in point of the underlying reasoning behind these weapons.
We have a responsibility to follow Christ. If we love our neighbour and pray for those who persecute us, Jesus tells us that this leads to perfection. Logically, this needs to transpose into our own lives in the circumstances in which we seek vengeance. It is therefore a radical idea to ‘turn the other cheek’, once we start to see this concept as being more than telling children off for fighting back if they are slapped in the playground. To forgive others: this can be one of the most difficult things to do, yet this is one of the central commands of Jesus. It also means giving up on things that we think give us freedom, but in fact end up shackling us to a cycle of vengefulness.
We should hope our Government will one day dismantle the HMS Vengeance and other weapons of mass destruction for when Jesus gives us good news, this means abandoning vengeance and loving our enemies. As St Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, God cannot be cheated in this regard, and we are the ones who will lose out. If we don’t take seriously the command to forgive and instead pick and choose which teachings of Christ to follow, then we shall reap what we sow. If we sow ‘seeds’ in the field of self-indulgence, then we get a harvest of corruption. If we sow in the field of the Spirit, then we get from it a harvest of eternal life. Sowing in the field of the Spirit is a struggle to accomplish, yet it is nonetheless a struggle where we shall get our harvest at the proper time. As Saint Paul wrote: when we have the chance, we must do good to all, especially to brothers and sisters in the faith.
Photograph of HMS Vengeance by POA(Phot) Tam McDonald/MOD, OGL v1.0, stored at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47870633