Sometimes we feel compelled to respond to an offense against us by inflicting the same offense on the person who gave it to us. We want to “make them pay”. This form of resentment only sows poison in our relationships.
In universities, during the start of the school year, it is not uncommon to see new students subjected to a form of initiation rite. These tests are supposed to help new students to get to know their classmates during team games, discover the premises of the university, and prove their desire to be part of their university major. But these initiations are generally prepared by second-year students, and they take advantage of this to make newcomers “pay” for what they have suffered the previous year. Which only leads to degradation, of course.
Now, come to think of it, we are not very different from those students. As Christians, we have often heard exhortations not to take revenge, to leave vengeance to God. That is one of the bases of forgiveness. But sometimes we forget that we are in revenge mode when we make other people pay for the harm done to us. Because a pastor has hurt us by his actions, we make all pastors “pay” by refusing to give them our trust. Because our ex cheated on us, we make the next person who is interested in us “pay” by being very hard to get. Because a colleague has been mean to us, everyone around us will pay the price for our bad attitude.
We not only make others pay for the offenses we have suffered, but also tend to withhold our generosity. Our parents were not lenient towards us, so we in turn are harsh towards our children. No one greeted us when we arrived at the church, so we will not welcome anyone. Our friend did not help us to move, so he better not ask us for help to look after their children.
We make others pay for the wrongs we have suffered, and we withhold our generosity when we have suffered shortcomings. That is not what Jesus taught us to do. “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NCV). Jesus did not say to do to others what others have done to us, but quite the opposite: it is up to us to take the first steps in terms of generosity and forgiveness. And, of course, we must not repay others for the harm they have done to us. “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, offer him the other cheek, too. If someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt” (Luke 6:29 NCV). Even if the whole world is wicked towards us, we must nevertheless remain a proud representative of Christ and manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) including kindness, patience, meekness, etc.
That does not mean we let people treat us like slaves, without respect, and we continue to serve them. If someone hurts us, we have to forgive them and seek healing, but we are not forced to become friends again with the person. We must also be wise in our relationship choices and learn from our mistakes. We have the right to say no when someone asks for our help. But if we refuse to reach out, let’s first take the time to check our motives. Because if our decision is motivated by retribution, it may be time to consult the doctor of our heart: Christ.