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Opening the Word: The Disease of revenge


When our society speaks about punishment, we often mean inflicting revenge upon another person. If someone sideswipes my car, then I should be able to do something to them. If my spouse cheats on me, then I should make them pay for their infidelity.

Sirach warns us against this predilection for revenge. We hear in this wisdom book of the Scriptures, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet a sinner holds on to them tight” (Sir 27:30).

What does this mean? Am I not right to be angry at one who wrongs me?

The problem with wrathful anger, a thirst for vengeance, is that it refuses to step outside the cycle of sin that God has come to interrupt. What is this cycle? Through one person’s transgression, an injustice was inflicted. A person has become a victim. And yet, that victim can then victimize another. A woman who was mistreated by her boss then yells at her child at home. The cycle of violence continues.

September 13 – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sir 27:30–28:7
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Rom 14:7-9
Mt 18:21-35

Sirach prophetically teaches that such a person cannot expect healing from God. God operates entirely outside this cycle of violence. He creates as an act of love, forgives as an act of love, and redeems as an act of love. God is total mercy, total gift. And human beings who hold on to the violence of revenge, who refuse to give mercy, cannot receive God.

The parable of the unforgiving servant is a presentation to us of the hellish consequences of the one who holds onto the desire for revenge. A servant is in debt to a king, and he cannot pay the debt. The king threatens to sell the man to make up this debt, but the servant pleads for mercy. The mercy is given, the debt wiped away.

The now-forgiven servant comes upon a man who owes him far less. And yet, the forgiven servant cannot forgive. He enacts his revenge.

The whole scene is irrational. Surely the forgiven servant must remember what just happened to him. And still, he is unable to receive the gift of mercy because he is controlled by wrath and anger.

And yet, this is Jesus’ whole point. How is it that Christians cannot find just a little bit of compassion, a skosh of solidarity, with our fellow sinners? After all, we have received an infinite forgiveness of our doubt through the death and resurrection of Our Lord. And yet, we hold on to those grudges, nurturing the hatred within our hearts.

Dear friends, nothing good can come from this cycle of revenge. And yet, this refusal to forgive is fueling much of the hatred in both Church and society alike. The righteous — whether writers from media on the far right or the far left — will offer no forgiveness for any transgression. The offender must be crucified, his or her life destroyed, and all the shame of the internet world heaped upon the offender.

Enough, says Jesus! Enough! He tells us to forgive seven times 70. Forgive as often as you have been forgiven. Forgive as regularly as God has forgiven you.

Jesus came into this world to initiate a different cycle marked by solidarity, love, friendship and communion. Our refusal to participate in this salvific cycle — even if we imagine that we rightfully refuse because of the transgression of our neighbor — is our own damnation.

Wrath and anger are dreadful. The sinner holds on to them because the sinner remains governed by the violence of this age.

Enough, Our Lord shows us. Not just through words but in his sacrifice of love upon the cross.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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