Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. (Sir 27:30 – 28:1)
Vengeance in the human heart is the angry portion of justice. Vengeance, or the infliction of punishment upon one who has done moral wrong, is not a bad thing in itself as it is certainly a part of justice. The only thing is – vengeance belongs entirely to God (Dt 32:35).
God gives the law to man to temper his desire for vengeance and because he wants man to exercise his power of reason in his relations. Law is always meant to be an “ordinance of reason” so that it will be “blind” to emotion and to ensure that the punishment of the guilty will be based on uprightness and not on anger, pride, envy, etc.
If vengeance belongs to God alone (in the sense that God’s anger is always perfect and justifiable) then we should avoid acting like it falls to us to dispense it. We should avoid seeking revenge, which is the term we use for describing man’s emotional pursuit of personal justice. In the act of revenge, one person (or a group of persons) takes it upon themselves, outside Church and State law, to inflict injury (physical or otherwise) on the offending (or apparently offending) party. Once the vengeful person or group has abandoned the law to act outside it, all kinds of dangerous things can be marshaled up along with injuries that perpetuate on both sides leading to individual and factional feuds. When this occurs there needs be called into play a legitimate authority to restore the law and to remind the individuals or factions involved to respect the rule of law and its enforcement.
In today’s first reading we reflect on revenge as a spiritual matter. We read that God sees wrath and anger in his children as hateful things and he wants to separate his beloved from these vices utterly. Man is also warned that when vengeance becomes an intentional activity which deliberately ignores the counsel and justice of God, it is a very grave sin that God remembers in his divine judgment.
For this 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time we place on our bulletin cover a work by Jacques-Louise David entitled The Pain of Andromache (1783 – From Wikiart). David was a Neoclassical artist and portraiture painter in the decades before the French Revolution after which he was given by Robespierre full control of the arts in the French Republic. As we know from reading about that radical revolution, the “Republic” specialized heinously in the art of revenge.
Our bulletin image captures the sad effect of revenge. Prince Hector lies dead on his bed after being killed in combat by Achilles, vengeful for the death of his friend Patroclus. The gods restored Hector’s corpse which had been dragged over the beach of Troy by Achilles. Hector thus died not in war, but in single combat over revenge. We see Hector’s wife Andromache lamenting and praying over her loss and her son Astyanax lamenting over her lamentation. This succession of suffering is indicated by the interweaving of arms which begins with Hector’s lifeless right arm continuing to his wife’s right arm, through her body to her son’s right arm and finally through the boy’s left arm to his mother’s breast.
Vengeance itself results in a succession of injury and suffering. Thus the need to forgive “seventy-seven times” if one is to truly imitate God (Mt 18:22).
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services