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A WORD FOR TODAY, March 13, 2023
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’ Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:8-17, WEB
One of my guilty pleasures is reading those lists of stories where people tell their experiences. Each list has a sort of them, like insane in-laws, terrible customers, “Karens”, and other such things. I enjoy reading the stories that tell about something positive that happened, the cute stories about the things children do to make me smile or the Good Samaritan stories. Some of the stories are funny, but some are quite disheartening. I have a hard time getting through the list, if I even bother to read it, of stories about revenge. The writers are always quite proud of how they “got back at” someone for something. The something is usually very petty, and the “getting back at” is usually harsh and even life changing.
This is not the way we are meant to respond to the world in which we live. People are not always nice. People will hurt us. People will do things to us that deserve revenge. We have the choice of how to respond. We can become angry, bitter, hateful, or resentful. We can seek revenge on our enemy, or even walk away from God because he has allowed these bad things to happen. We can say that God does not love or He would not allow this evil to touch our lives. Jesus Christ never said it would be easy. He said He would always be with us, through the hard times. When you face suffering, how do you respond? Do you run from God? Or do you run into His arms? Do you want to get revenge, or do you try to make a difference in your enemy’s life so that they will face life with grace?
The scriptures make it clear that we are not to seek revenge on our enemies. In Romans, Paul quoted the Old Testament, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” These words are written several times throughout the Books of Moses and the Prophets. In Deuteronomy and again in Proverbs, the scriptures tell us that they will suffer from their own schemes. They may battle against us, but they will fall into their own pit. We don’t have to avenge ourselves because God, and the consequences of their own folly, will avenge us.
After reminding us to leave vengeance to God, Paul wrote, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” I don’t know, but heaping coals of fire on someone’s head seems more like those acts of revenge on the lists than leaving it up to God. But Paul makes it clear that we are to treat those enemies in a way that will bring them into repentance. We are to feed the hungry and give a cup of water to the thirsty so that they will experience God’s grace through our actions.
On Ash Wednesday we put coals on our heads, the ashes are a reminder that we are made from dust and we will return to dust. The act looks back to an Old Testament practice where they would sit in ashes, roll around in them, sprinkle them upon their heads, or even mingle them with their food and drink as an outward sign of their inward posture of repentance. Ashes were also part of the grieving process. We put those ashes on our foreheads because we grieve our sin and commit to being changed by God’s grace. When we do good to our enemies rather than seek revenge, they see faith in action calling them to a new life to be transformed by belief in Jesus Christ. We don’t know what will happen, but we trust that God will take care of it, whether they suffer the consequences of their sin or they become our brother rather than our enemy.
A WORD FOR TODAY is posted five days a week – Monday through Friday. The devotional on Wednesday takes a look at the scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday. A WORD FOR TODAY is posted on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Word-for-Today-Devotional/339428839418276. Like the page to receive the devotion through Facebook. For information and to access our archives, visit http://www.awordfortoday.org