Pulpit Reflections by Father Donald Imming Just a few days ago the news media was reporting that a bus driver, an Arab, deliberately drove into a crowd of Israeli soldiers and civilians killing several and injuring many. When questioned, he said he did so because of his anger against Israeli soldiers who were killing so many Arab children. He himself was a father of five. His motive was revenge.
Over the past months it has been reported frequently that after an Israeli settler was killed, the Israeli army would shell buildings in the Arab section, killing many. The motive was revenge, getting even. And so the cycle of violence continues.
But vengeance is a universal human emotion, emerging from our dark side, just as does selfishness. It is destructive of both victim and perpetrator. How can we bring it under control in our own lives? Jesus' teaching is unique and revolutionary in this respect. It can only be controlled through forgiveness. St. Luke reports Jesus saying: "Forgive, and you shall be forgiven." (Luke 6/37)
The first book of Samuel in the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures, whichever we wish to call it, tells us how King Saul, with his troops, was trying to hunt down David and his men to kill them.
David eludes them. At the end of the day as Saul's troops slept, David and a couple of his men sneak into the camp right up to the place where Saul was sleeping with his spear in the ground near his head. David's men urge David to finish Saul off once and for all. But he refuses to kill him.
Instead he takes the spear, carries it off to a nearby hill, and calls out awakening the camp. He tells them to come and get Saul's spear. Saul, realizing that David has spared him, repents and calls off the hunt. But only to resume it later. (I Samuel 26). David is a worthy ancestor of Jesus who was born of the family of David.
Later on when David is king and his own son, Absalom, rises in revolt to take the throne for himself and to kill David, David will give strict orders that if and when Absalom is captured not a hair on his head is to be harmed. (2 Samuel 18) David was a forgiving man and God in turn forgave him much.
On the cross, instead of hurling curses down upon his murderers, Jesus prayed: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23/34) And he taught his disciples, as we have already noted, to forgive if they wish to be forgiven.
Forgiveness is never easy, especially if the hurt against us is great. But then it is even more necessary. Sometimes we can only bring ourselves to forgive in stages, the first being not to retaliate. Emotions are not under our direct control, and it takes time for a feeling of vengeance to subside. But moral behavior is not a matter of feelings, but of intentions and deeds. For those who believe in him he has promised his holy spirit to assist us. Those who are led by the spirit can walk far.