friday reflectionary: Friday reflections on one or more of the upcoming Sunday lectionary readings.
Listen to this cry of David: "Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them!" (Ps 54:5).
Then hear this call of Paul: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...Do not repay anyone evil for evil!" (Rom 12:14, 17a).
Did you catch that?
David: Let evil recoil on those who slander me!
Paul: Do not repay anyone evil for evil!
The one is a cry for vengeance.
The other, a call for peace.
Let's be honest here. When we're the victim of personal injustice, even though we know we should follow Paul's words, we'd often rather pray David's prayer.
At least, that's the way I am.
But how do we move from the one text to the other? How do we move past the desire for revenge to a yearning for peace?
Here's the answer I keep coming back to: Jesus stands between David and Paul; Jesus is the bridge from vengeance to peace.
Jesus fulfills the way of peace. He is the best of David's inclinations, both as kingdom-maker and temple-builder. He is the Davidic king who comes to bring about God's kingdom on earth, but he does this through his self-giving suffering, in love even for God's enemies (Mark 8:29-31). He is also the son of David who builds God's temple among his people, but he does this through his own broken and resurrected body, through building a new body, a new humanity reconciled in unity in which God's Spirit dwells and among whom God is worshiped (John 2:19-21; Eph 2:14-22).
Jesus shows us the way of peace. As he goes to the cross, like David he cries out to God in his suffering, entrusting his vindication to God. Just as he has taught his followers, he doesn't resist the evil persons he encounters along the way. But he does resist the evil done to him: he resists this evil by speaking truth, even to power, by refusing to engage in violence himself, by giving himself in love even for his enemies. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus says to Pilate, unlike the kingdom the Roman governor represents. "If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36-37).
Jesus is the way of peace. Through Jesus' self-giving suffering and death, barriers are broken down: barriers between us and God, and between us and the other—the different, the stranger, even the enemy (Eph 2:14-18). We who have lived in fear and ignorance and anger and hatred have been forgiven. How can we do any less to those around us who deal in fear and ignorance, whose currency is anger and hatred—even toward us? Our heart should beat with the heart of the crucified Jesus: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
When we experience injustice, then, we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
We cry out to God in our suffering, even in the raw depths of our agony, trusting God to walk with us through the suffering, entrusting our vindication to God in his timing and his way.
We speak truth to ourselves and to others, even to those who have committed the injustice, even to those in power, naming sin and evil for what it is.
We resist evil by refusing to engage in evil acts ourselves; we resist violence done to us by refusing to engage in violence ourselves, whether violent actions or violent words. Instead, we engage in acts of self-giving, life-giving love for the other.
And through it all we remind ourselves of our own sin, now forgiven, as we see the sin of others against us, waiting to be forgiven.
This is not an easy road; it is, in fact, a very difficult, very narrow path, and few find it. I struggle with this every single day.
But this is the way from vengeance to peace. This is the way of Jesus.