Homily 02 19 2017
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth? The old cowboy films of my boyhood had a recurrent scene that always intrigued me. In the bar-room shoot-out, the crooked gangster, beaten to the draw, tottered to the floor, riddled with bullets. As the gunman turned away, the dying gangster weakly raised his gun and fired a last shot into the gunman’s back. Then he slumped back and died, almost contentedly, a wisp of smoke spiraling from his gun and a flicker of a smile on his face. Sweet revenge!
I accepted all this then as part of the Western fantasy-world. I know better now.
Life is full of people with chips on their shoulders, real or imaginary, all waiting for a chance to get their own back. They carry their scars through life, refusing to let them heal until they have settled accounts. Feuds, vendettas and grudges are nurtured in parishes, in streets and even in families.
Some are even passed down from one generation to the next. A colossal amount of energy and ingenuity is expended on settling old scores and exacting vengeance.
The lex talionis – “an eye for eye and tooth for tooth” – is alive and well and thriving in every human environment, but nowhere more so than in the industrial world.
Management singles out troublemakers for redundancy. Blacklists are kept. Workers know where and when to call a lightening strike and who in management is to be sacrificed. Even in the corridors of power, in the velvet setting of plush boardrooms, the knives are long and sharp and are slipped between pin-striped shoulder-blades almost with a smile.
Honor is always at stake when the God of vengeance is invoked. “Getting one’s own back” is raised to the level of a virtue in our world. The injured party could never hold its head up again if the injury is not repaid.
Loved ones too are invoked. We owe it to our wives and children. “Getting even” becomes an obsession. “I’ll fix him if it is the last thing I do.”
Shades of the prostrate crook and his smoking six-shooter! The world has nothing but contempt for the one who “turns the other cheek.” He is a weakling. “He took it lying down.” It goads us on to vengeance. “Don’t let them get away with it.”
The Bible tells us otherwise. The Lord said to Moses: “You must not take revenge, nor bear a grudge against the children of your people.”
What is refreshing about today’s gospel is that it recognizes us as we are, full of pettiness, exacting hurt for hurt, trading blow for blow. We all have enemies who persecute us.
Letting them get away with it is not easy. Loving them is a call to perfection, to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.