Benedictine University and’s Mark Kurowski reflects on the perspective we need to rejoice, instead of exacting revenge.  What does that mean to Christians?  When life cries out and deserves justice, how do we rejoice?  Listen to this podcast of his reflection for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Please read Matthew 22:1-14.

{mp3}2011 10 09 A 59 28 Ord{/mp3}

For Benedictine University and, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/9/2011The 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 22:1-14.
On a Wednesday in 1999 I arrived home to Caleb and Hannah running out of the house to tell me that four bicycles had been stolen from our garage.  On that Thursday, I entered my study and had to write a sermon on the passage, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.”
There are times in our lives, even for the most faithful of people that the last thing in the world we want to do is to “rejoice.”  In fact, what we really want to do is to exact our revenge, get justice and make sure that everyone gets what they deserve.  Everyone, that is, except us, of course.
In her book, Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen Prejean points out that there is a principle at stake when we call for justice.  Dead Man Walking is a book which chronicles her journey as a spiritual advisor to men who are on death row in Louisiana’s State Penitentiary at Angola.  She makes the point that it doesn’t make sense to call for justice for an unjust act by doing the same unjust act dressed up in dignity.  In other words, it doesn’t make sense for us who are not crazy to kill someone who went crazy and killed someone.
It is especially wrong when we, who are Christians, believe that Jesus died to pay for all sins—even sins of those who murder.  Although we admit that the state has a right to take a life to protect the community from a murderer, it is still hard for Christians to justify the taking of a life by the state when, in fact, Jesus says to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;” (Matt.5:39).
The questions remain, “How do we resist wanting justice?  How do we resist wanting revenge?  How do we rejoice in all things?”
It sounds so simple, sublime even, but it can be so hard.  The reason it is so hard to do is because it requires a full surrender of our right and desire for justice.  It requires our full trust that God will exact his justice, if it comes to that.  What we need to do is to surrender our desire for control and let the Lord do what he will do.
The Lord will hold all people accountable on the last day.  He will exact payment from those who do not love Him.  Or, maybe he will find them in a weak moment and they will accept his forgiveness and love.  Either way, justice is served.  He is ultimately in control.
So, on that Thursday, I went into my study and I knelt down to pray.  I sang a song to the Lord and said some doxologies and then I opened my Bible to the Thirty-Seventh Psalm and here is what it said, “Do not fret because of the wicked…Trust in the Lord, and do good…Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act.”
Friends, I wanted those bicycles back right then!  I couldn’t bear to have my children’s bikes taken from them. Those wicked people even took one that still had the training wheels on it!  It is hard, but I have to remember that none of this revenge stuff will get me anywhere.
We still are marked by the tragedy of children with pistols at Columbine High School in Colorado who were exacting their revenge for being bullied.  What did they accomplish with their anger?  They became an eternal example of evil in sermon after sermon.  They made people hurt.  Did their pain go away?  If it had, then there would have been no need for them to kill themselves.
Revenge is tempting because it makes us think that we can feel better by taking care of things ourselves.  Revenge shows no trust in God.  It’s a kind of human “if-you-want-it-done-right” type of thing.  Revenge is the tool of the selfish and self deceived.
As I read the pages of Dead Man Walking I was struck by the burden of revenge.  Each of the families that demanded that the killer of their children “fry!” are saddled with heavy chains that they will carry with them.  They cannot let go of trying to control what cannot be controlled.  They want to see “justice” now, on earth, what is only promised for heaven.  Even after they see the killer of their children “fry”, their thirst for justice was not satisfied.  They wished the pain were longer, harder, and more brutal.  What they demonstrate is that an eye for an eye doesn’t satisfy.  Killing the killer doesn’t kill the pain.
Really, brothers and sisters, earthly existence is not what is ultimately important.  We are here but a short time and what is really to be savored is yet to come.  St. Paul says two things to the church at Philippi in this regard.  I think they will help us “rejoice always.”
First St. Paul says, “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.”  When I read that I asked, “in what way?”  Here is what he says just before this,
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, but the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.
In this passage is the promise that in the “resurrection of the body” our bodies will be changed from ashes and dust into the same type of immortal body that Christ himself possesses.  Then we will feast at his heavenly banquet.  This is to be our focus.
Don’t desire exact revenge and justice in earthly terms.  Instead know that “The Lord is near.”  This is the second thing he tells us.  The Lord is near.  He will come again in his own soon time and take us to heaven.  He will and has taken care that we will be alright.
On that Wednesday, the bikes were stolen.  On that Thursday, I was forced to trust that the Lord would provide.  On that Friday, there was a yard sale which children’s bikes for sale at a reasonable price.
One day Sister Helen Prejean feels helpless about capital punishment.  She is one nun in a sea of corruption and hate filled vengeance.  The next day she has a book, a movie and now a platform upon which to proclaim that revenge does nothing but let people know that the state is just as bad as the murderers on death row.
The Lord takes care of those who are trusting in his grace to help them make it through the day.  His mercy is with us always.  We can rejoice on even the worst of days because we know that the Lord is near.  He cares for the sparrows and the birds of the field, but he cares even more for those who were made in his image and likeness.
So, we can rejoice. We can celebrate even on the darkest of days, if we have the proper perspective, the Lord’s perspective on life and the material things around us.
In a protestant monastery in Taize, France, they sing a chant prayer that goes like this,
In the Lord, I am ever thankful.
In the Lord, I will rejoice.
Trust in God and don’t be afraid.
Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.
Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.
Amen?  Amen.
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