Saturday, December 17, 2011

Biblical Revenge Fantasies

(This is a meditation on one of the Scripture passages assigned for today by the Episcopal Church's lectionary.  I wrote it for a booklet published by St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, GA)

Psalm 55. 12-13 It is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it – but it is you…my familiar friend.
Remember that time when everyone stopped talking the moment they saw you? Then you passed them, and someone murmured behind your back, and everyone laughed?
That’s when you turned on them, stretched out your hands, and said, “Lord! Show them Your righteous power!” You laughed as invisible fingers choked them, and the one who cracked the joke swelled up like a balloon and floated away.
Maybe your inner adolescent’s fantasies are less Harry Potter and more Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so you picture yourself saying righteous things that teach those hypocrites a lesson.
We all have felt betrayed by friends, and I imagine that I’m not the only one at St. James’ to have fantasies of revenge. In fact, the readings today are full of such fantasies. The psalmist calls for the ground to open up and swallow his enemy; Matthew tells how Jesus will get even with the bad ones. Revelation cheers first-century Christians with the vision of four horsemen who will torment their oppressors.
Indulging such self-righteous fantasies is always fun, for a little while, and always a mistake. They get my heart rate up and fill me with adrenaline, as much as a real confrontation would do. They increase the resentment and add to the loathing I feel. But Jesus commands us, “Love your enemies,” and he tells us that to hate is the same as to murder.
Let’s return to the scene imagined at the head of this meditation. When everyone’s laughing, the victim can do little to save face. But imagine if someone in the crowd steps forward, gently chides the others, and starts a friendly conversation with the hurt one.
I like to think that we at St. James' bring our own church’s wise, un-self-righteous, moderating spirit to situations like this. I like to think that we impress others by how we diffuse cliques and deflect gossip.
In this season of office parties and family gatherings, let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord!
Other readings assigned for the day:  Psalm 55. . .138,139.1-17(18-23). . .Zech. 8.9-17. . .Rev. 6.1-17. . .Matt. 25.31-46

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