In the movies, a persecuted protagonist can exact revenge on the evil antagonist and the theater audience cheers! Moral considerations melt away.
- By John W. Martens, America
Movie heroes have limitless scope to exact vengeance on villains who 'have it coming.' We in the cinema seats can relate because we share the desire to take vengeance on those who have hurt us or a loved one.
When we are harmed, intuitive, pre-rational feelings begin to bubble up that propel us to hurt the person who injured us. Feelings of anger and a desire for vengeance in response to harm are more than ancient; they are primal.
In Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus, Moses outlined the commands of God for those who had been harmed, directing the Israelites not to 'hate in your heart anyone of your kin' and not to 'take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.'
While these commands are directed to the Israelites alone in Leviticus, as behaviours essential for holiness, Jesus extends their application to all of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus tells his followers: 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.'
Hate knows no boundaries; it can be found within families or directed toward a distant enemy, and it can be found wherever people hurt each other.
Hate's reach is universal, which is why love also must know no boundaries if it is to transform the lives of both persecutor and victim.
The love of enemy to which Jesus calls us is counterintuitive and foolish. It challenges us not just to love the ones we already love, but those who have given us every reason not to love them.
Yet Jesus calls us to 'be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.' And Paul challenges us to be 'fools for Christ,' and to be holy as God is holy, as he reminds the church in Corinth, 'God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.'
In both verses, you is plural. We, the church, are called to be perfect, are named that holy temple and are called to love so that we 'may be children of your father in heaven.'
It is this desire, grounded in the longing to be holy as God is holy, that allows us to rise above our feelings for vengeance.
In the love of enemy we convert not only our own hearts, but the possibility exists that when we forego destroying enemies with weapons of vengeance, then love, the weapon of the spirit, will transform them.
Read full reflection: My Enemy, My Love (America)