Saturday, May 31, 2014

Burning coals

Today’s second reading from Romans (12:9-16) is entitled “Mutual Love.”  It’s chock-a-block full of advice pertaining to our duties as Christians.   Most of us find some of these duties as difficult to perform as a tightrope walker balancing high up in the Big Top.  Consider: “Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them.”  However, there are easier tasks such as “…hate what is evil, hold onto what is good.” 

Then again, there is some curious advice following today’s passage: “…Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  In other words, according to Paul, we’re not to seek revenge; we are to leave the outcome to God.  Still, many of us may be unhappy about our loving God being trusted to give punishing vengeance to those who have harmed us or our loved ones.  Some of us (many of us?) think revenge is best handled personally by us and served hot, not later by God when we cannot see and taste that retribution.  We want to hold the whip or wield the club.  Such is the angry heart screaming for vengeance.  Rightfully or wrongfully, we’ve all been there at one time or another.

But let’s listen to Paul who gives us more take-to-heart advice.  He says, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head.  Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”  Well, burning coals heaped upon his head is a good start, but how does that fit with conquer evil with good? 

William Barclay (Scottish New Testament interpreter) gives us a sensible answer.  He said many years ago, “To treat a man with kindness rather than vengeance is the way to move him.  Vengeance may break his spirit; but kindness will break his heart.  ‘If we are kind to our enemies,’ says Paul, ‘it will heap coals of fire on their heads.’  That means not that it will store up further punishment for them, but that it will move them to burning shame.  To stoop to vengeance is to be ourselves conquered by evil.  Evil can never be conquered by evil.  If hatred is met with more hatred it is only increased; but if it is met with love, an antidote for the poison is found.  As Booker Washington said: ‘I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him.’  The only way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

So, next time we find ourselves aflame with seething anger and seeking vengeance, let’s heap burning coals upon their heads.
 
Deacon David Pierce

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