“She hit me first!” Ah, the easy justification of childhood for revenge. And isn’t it amazing how so little changes as we get older?
But what is the old saying “Before you embark on a journey to revenge, dig two graves.”
The dangers of thinking any real peace or real contentment can ever come from a “get even” attitude is based on a fantasy of “pure judgement.” We humans don’t possess such an attribute. To be sure, we do have the capacity, with God’s grace, to be righteous and good and merciful and patient. But justice? Our track record on justice is spotty at best.
What stands in the way of our ability to achieve “fairness” and “justice” is our own blindness to our own faults. We see so clearly how others have acted wrongly or unfairly and remain so completely blind to our own acts of selfishness and our tendencies to excuse our taking advantage of others for our own advantage. And that blindness pollutes all our demands for “fairness” and “justice.”
So, how are we followers of Christ taught to react to threats and intimidation? How do serious believers in Jesus and the Message of the Gospel of Christianity reacts to mistreatment?
In our Scripture Lesson today we see an example of how the newly Holy Spirit empowered disciples of the Risen Lord Jesus reacted when they were both threatened and unjustly arrested. Look at Acts 4:23-31. Here the disciples had been used by the Lord to heal a man who had been at the Temple paralyzed. This was very public and very viral, to use a popular phrase of today’s social media world. And it got the disciples in trouble with the religious authorities, as usual. They arrested Peter and John and brought them before the religious court.
Needless to say, Peter and John spoke with boldness in the face of their threats and accusations. But, because the religious leaders couldn’t deny the miracle, they commanded the disciples not to preach in the Lord’s Name and not to keep saying that Jesus had risen from the dead!
Peter and John went back to the rest of the followers of Jesus and (wait for it) Worshiped God! Yep, their reaction to unfair treatment and threats was worship. A strange reaction to say the least.
But look at what their reaction reveals.
First, they were free to react this way because they 1) knew that Christ was alive and had defeated death so even threats against their lives were hollow and powerless against such eternal life as given to them by Christ; 2) were so well versed in the Scriptures that they recognized from the Scriptures that this was exactly what was going to happen when the “authorities” were confronted with this radical message of a risen Savior for the whole world. Notice they quote Psalm 2:1 and 2 when they pray:”Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” They weren’t surprised by threats and mistreatment. They were ready for it!
Next, they prayed for MORE boldness. Notice they didn’t ask for protection. They didn’t pray that their enemies would be destroyed or that they would even be rescued. They asked the Lord to give them more boldness to keep doing what got them in trouble with the authorities in the first place! And they could do this because they knew that it was the Lord, not them, doing the wonderful miracles that proved their message was true – Jesus Christ is Alive!
Today, we are constantly confronted with temptations, large and small and everywhere in the between, to live a life of “tit for tat” “do unto others before they do it unto you” “don’t let them beat you” and other attitudes that invade our souls even before we are aware of their caustic presence. It seems to come naturally to us to want to “get even” with those who we think have taken advantage of us. But this never, I mean never, leads to peace and contentment and joy, ever!
So, we are called, as followers of Jesus, to take a different path. This path is informed constantly by the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection and His absolute defeat of death. This path is informed by the constant reality that we belong to God and He is our Defender and the Lifter of our heads. It isn’t our responsibility to “get even” or defend ourselves. That’s God’s work. This path is always informed by the mystery of love even for our enemies, knowing there is nothing our enemies can do to us that is worse than the self-serving slavery of denying our relationship with Jesus by trying to defend ourselves!
Today, when you are threatened and mistreated, take a breath; take a step back and draw on the spiritual preparation you are doing all the time by prayer, fasting, generosity and be strengthened to look beyond the moment to the ultimate reality of your eternal life and the perspective of forever to diminish the heat of the moment. Live free from the slavery of revenge and the seemingly never ending score-keeping of who did what to who.