I watched an old episode of “Gunsmoke” entitled, “Ex-Con.” The ex-con spent five years in prison for breaking the law. He was caught and brought to justice by Marshall Matt Dillon of Dodge City, Kansas. Shortly after getting out, he announced to his wife he bought a gun because he wanted to “get even” with Marshall Dillon for sending him to jail. His body language and words reflected anger, unforgiveness, and an utter lack of remorse. In the end, his grudge against the U.S. Marshall led to his death, sadly not too long after getting out of prison.
I remember growing up with a lot of boys my age in the neighborhood and we played a lot of sports and games. I recall highly competitive events, contests, and matches played for bragging rights with lots of back and forth “loud” bantering. Voices were often raised, bodies were entangled and shoved, and fist-fights broke out now and then.
Not surprisingly, I do not remember any physical or verbal collisions contributing to long-term conflicts among my friends. I mean we scrapped, jostled, argued, and even fought, but then we stopped, apologized if necessary, dusted ourselves off, and went back to playing whatever game we were involved with. I guess our parents taught us well that you have to resolve your differences quickly and judiciously. And we did. Part of the result was that neighbors and friends like Al, Steve, Dave, and I continued as pals throughout high school and into adult life.
Read Romans 12:17-21. Did you notice verse 18?
I have learned that grudges develop about serious (and not so serious) stuff and often feel (or seem) justified in the moment. When one person hurts or betrays a person, it is normal to feel bad and sometimes humiliated. It is natural to hold hard feelings toward the person, and it is even normal to want to get back at them…sooner or later. We all assume revenge tastes better if served when the other person least expects. But is revenge really better for both parties?
One of my favorite (and sad, but real) stories in Scripture is found in Genesis 27. Older brother Esau is holding a grudge against younger brother Jacob for the blessing he took from their father, Isaac. Jacob was a devious young man in disguising himself as Esau to fool his father for the blessing meant for his older brother. After his father died, Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are over; then I will find and kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). Jacob (and his mother who aided him in the first place) both feared for his life, because they worried about what Esau would do. So Jacob ran away. Pain and fear were his companions.
If you pick up the story in Genesis 33:4, we read of Esau’s actions when “he ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his younger brother and kissed him.” And the brothers wept. Esau’s forgiveness has always stood out to me as the action of an amazing man. Esau was cheated out of his birthright, and understandably angry about the injustice (I mean, c’mon mom, you too?). But when the confrontation ultimately happened, Esau chose to forgive his younger brother and offered the gift of reconciliation that only he could.
I know what it feels like to be humiliated because someone hurt me. I certainly wanted revenge, and was tempted to get back at someone for what they did to me. But I learned (Romans 12:19) that vengeance was to be out of my hands. I also had to learn to give up the grudge. Live communally. If you hold a grudge, you lose a friend. Esau shows us there is a better way.
Love is a verb,
©2017 by Mike Olejarz