From Revenge to Mercy

 

First Thursday of Lent:

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”

It seems to me that one of the great tasks for us Christians today is to recapture the uniqueness of our teaching in comparison to the common opinions of mankind, and even the doctrines of other religions. The final line of today’s gospel is an example of this uniqueness. The common opinion is really quite different when it comes to “doing unto others.” For most men throughout history, a common approach to this issue is to do unto others as they do unto you. That seems like a matter of natural justice, and it is very widespread even in our own day, and even among many Christians.

It’s quite a leap intellectually and spiritually from that common. “Do unto others as they do unto you,” to the teaching of Jesus, “do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” It’s elite not only spiritually, because it takes great virtue to restrain a desire for vengeance, but also intellectually or morally. To make this leap requires not only grace from God, but a different vision of God’s relationship to the world. In short, to make this leap requires a deep faith in divine providence, so we can leave “vengeance” to the Lord, who not only created us in the whole world, but guides us along with the world to our final perfection. Our God is not the God of Thomas Jefferson, the Deist God who creates things. But then has no more interest in his creation. Providence is reduced to the fact that God gave man in intellect with which he is to guide himself in this world.

Of course there’s much truth in this understanding of Providence, since man indeed is called to be providential, to use his God-given intelligence to guide his affairs in this world. St. Thomas Aquinas is quite clear that man participates in God’s providence in a unique way compared to all other creatures on this Earth, since man is called to cooperate with God in guiding himself in the creatures under his dominion. In such a way that it brings about his own perfection, and harmony and good order in creation. But none of this led St. Thomas to conclude that God is distant from his creation, or that God doesn’t care about his creation, or that God is not indeed, guiding his creation, even when man is cooperating with him.

To have this balanced appreciation and understanding of God’s providence, man needs a great deal of humility, as well as trust. Our minds, his greatest they can be, our darkened by original sin, and we often do not know accurately what is the best course in it comes to making decisions about our present life, let alone our future. The humble man places himself in the hands of God, no matter how great his learning or intelligence, just as much as a simple peasant, who is quite aware of the deficiencies in his knowledge and understanding.

Esther, who we read about in today’s first reading, had great humility and great trust in God’s providence. She knew that going before the King to plead for her people could bring her death, since that was the penalty for anyone who dared to go before the king without being called by the King. But Esther knew the history of her people in the way that God had guided Israel throughout its pilgrimage on this Earth, and so she prayed that God would guide both her and the King in bringing this problem to a just resolution.

Jesus reminds us in the gospel that if we, who are wicked, know how to give our children good things they would never give them something to harm them, how much more we should trust in God, who his infinite goodness, and he truly provident Father, would never give us something that would harm us. That’s why we can ask God with confidence for things that appear good to us, but may indeed not be good for us since we know nothing of the future. But God does, and in our prayers we trust that God will give us what is truly good for us, but never give us what would harm us, and that gives us the greatest confidence to live our lives in this world without fear and to pray constantly with great confidence in God and his loving guidance.

So, going back to that final line of the gospel, we can let injuries go, and not seek vengeance because we put all that in the hands of God, trusting that he will do what is right and just, while our desire for vengeance might lead us into evil. It’s understandable why those who do not have faith in God’s providence want to make sure that all evils done to them are rectified already in this life. Why should the evil man get away with the evil he’s done to us? But belief in divine providence means that no one ever gets away from evil, and that God will either bring the evildoer to repentance, which should fill us with joy if we are Christ like, or God will rectify that evil in the life to come. For our part, we are best off leaving all this to his infinite wisdom, justice, and mercy.

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Categories: Weekday reflections

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