Bread – Payback 2

September 27, 2013

Readings for Friday, September 27, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 9:17-37; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Matt. 6:7-15; Psalms 88,91,92


Two days ago I wrote about payback and basically presented a Scriptural perspective on “turning the other cheek,” something which is very difficult if not impossible for carnal man to do.

Today we re-visit payback, not because I want to but because we are presented with this again in Scripture today, but from a different perspective and a different outcome.

Our reading from 2 Kings has Jehu coming across the valley with his army toward the kings of Israel and Judah. After sending a couple of messengers out to Jehu to discern his intentions, who do not return, the kings of Israel (Joram) and Judah (Ahaziah) leave their fortifications and go out to Jehu to discover his intentions. The following exchange then occurs:

“And when Joram saw Jehu, he said ‘Is it peace, Jehu?’ He answered, ‘What peace can there be, so long as the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?’ Then Joram reigned about and fled, saying to Ahaziah, ‘Treachery, O Ahaziah!’ And Jehu drew his bow with his full strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart, and he sank in his chariot.” 2 Kings 9:22-24

And so Joram was paid back for his mother’s idol worship of Baal (that is what the whoring and sorcery were about; Baal is a fertility religion) by Jehu.

So in the Bread two days ago payback was not appropriate but in today’s readings it is. What is the difference?

The difference is in who the offense is against. In our readings two days ago, the offense was against the individual who was exercising payback time. The Syrian army arrayed against Elisha was arrayed against him. In Corinthians, Paul was addressing you suing your brother for a wrong your brother committed against you. In Matthew, Jesus was addressing your reaction when someone stole your clothes or when someone hits you.

Today, the offense of Joram’s family was against God, by raising up a false religion, an idol, over God and by following the corruptions of society which followed from such idolatry. Jeru was exercising payback for an offense to God, not an offense to him personally.

What then is the lesson from all this? Maybe it is this – When the offense is against you personally, you should go out of your way to be merciful and show love in the circumstances. When the offense is against God, you should go out of your way to correct the offense and, if need be, be God’s agent for payback.

How do we tell the difference? For example, is someone’s theft of my wallet an offense against me (my wallet) or an offense against God (you shall not steal)? Is the murder of an unborn child an offense against an individual (the child) or an offense against God (you shall not murder)? Is the failure to go to my church an offense against me (you won’t join my club) or an offense against God (you won’t come to church because you go somewhere where you worship idols)?

Gives me a headache. What’s worse, because our minds are so corrupt and infiltrated with the wisdom of the world rather than the wisdom of God, we will tend to re-cast offenses against us as offenses against God so that we will have an “excuse” for payback. Or we will recast offenses against God as trivial so that we can avoid the necessary reality of being God’s agents for correction. We will tend to elevate the trivial offenses against us to major events, and we will tend to deflate the major offenses against God to trivia.

Maybe this is why Jesus told us to look at the log in our own eyes before we complained about the speck in others’ eyes. Maybe it is also why He blew into the temple courts and upended the money-changing tables.

There is another aspect of this discussion worth having. Did Jehu just get a letter from Jezebel, jump up out of his bed, and say “I think today we will go to war?” No. To pull his army together, he had to think, plan, and execute the plan. He had to be deliberate, which means also that his actions were not a reaction to offense but a response. There is a huge difference, because a reaction is personal and immediate, designed for immediate payback. A response, however, is deliberate and careful, designed for a long term result. A reaction occurs because we have been offended. A response occurs because we realize that something more is at stake than merely our feelings.

Again, how do we distinguish between payback which arises from bruised pride or perceived personal wrong or loss and payback which arises from our obligations as Christians to be God’s ambassadors in the world and, sometimes, God’s soldiers?

About all we can do is, at the time, pray — Come Holy Spirit and give me wisdom in the circumstances that I may rightly discern what, if anything, you would have me do. And then wait for the answer.


© 2013 GBF

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