The Return Match

‘“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

How we love to play the “Return Match”!  The phrase reminds me of the situation where a town has two football teams. They play once and then a “return match” is called for. It’s like a kind of sublimated revenge. The papers may even call it a “Revenge Match” or a “Grudge Match.” They use clichés such as “Revenge is sweet!” or “Honour is satisfied!”

At the worst level, this stuff only deepens divides into an “us and them” mentality, into gangs and factions and petty retaliations.

It’s interesting, therefore, to notice that phrase “among your [own] people.” The original context of “love your neighbour as yourself” is a section on how to live a holy life with a specific bunch of ideas about being nice to your neighbour. The verse’s full force is demonstrated only when paired with its preceding verse:

“‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbour, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the Lord.”

The words should be translated in a much more concrete way, more as an injunction to be useful, be helpful to the neighbour, take care of them, rather than to develop a particular kind of warm feeling. In English a closer translation than ‘love’, which has now got to be a word for an emotion, would be ‘cherish’, which implies taking care, nurturing and providing for a beloved object.

Somehow it’s easier to see how people nurture their gardens or their pets than they do their relationships.

I think that the phrase “among your people” is crucial.  This is your own family that you are poisoning with your ongoing grudge match. Anne Lamott said “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

Jesus quoted this Scripture, of course, but then went on to tell the familiar story of “the Good Samaritan” in answer to the question “Who is my neighbour?”  The answer given was that if under God, everyone is in the family, then everyone can be your neighbour.

But you have to see it. And then do it.

If not, then, as Victor Hugo said “Every blade has two edges; he who wounds with one wounds himself with the other.”

I remember reading somewhere: “If you spend your time hoping someone will suffer the consequences for what they did to your heart, then you’re allowing them to hurt you a second time in your mind.”

Lord, help me to see the people around me as my own family, my own people, and to act accordingly, in love and trust and forgiveness.

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