“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” It means that if revenge (or retribution) is delayed beyond the heat of anger, it is much more satisfying. I don’t know if that’s true. Retribution is a human attempt to makes things right by punishing another. The problem is it doesn’t usually make us feel that much better. We might get a little payback, but it doesn’t make us whole.
What we’re talking about here is broken relationships. To oversimplify, one person sins against another. The one harmed often seeks retribution. The dispute could be over anything, but the harm may be serious enough that we want to expel the sinner from our lives entirely. In Matthew 18:12-17, Jesus called us to take a different approach:
"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matt. 18:12-17 NIVO)
Some folks read this and think, “Yes! I’ll take my complaint to the church and they’ll give me my pound of flesh!” It that’s all we get from this text, we miss the point. Jesus was more concerned about restoration--about correcting the sinner and the damage done to the community. He didn’t want to lose a sinner to alienation.
This is not to suggest Jesus didn’t care about the person who was injured. He just didn’t want the victim, in bitterness or a desire for revenge, to compound the damage to the community. That too, is a sin and damaging to the soul. We are to desire what God does--the redemption of the sinner. It requires humility and turning it over to God’s judgement. But in the process the one harmed can be restored in his spirit as well.
When I was young and naive, I got tangled up with my best friend’s girl. I was just a geeky country boy who had zero experience with females. At the time, I didn’t think I did anything wrong but the result was I lost my best friend and was ostracized from our group. My friend never came to talk to me--and he never let his hurt go. How much I wish I had made different choices! I longed to be restored to friendship...or to at least be forgiven...but it was never to happen. A group of kids who did everything together had our friendships shattered by my mistake. We were never made whole again.
In my life I have been harmed as well. I wish I could say I handled it better than my friend. Having been on both the giving and receiving ends of broken relationships, one thing I’ve learned is that retribution drives a terrible wedge between sinner and victim, and between us and God. Restoration relieves pain and is the quickest way to inner peace. It is often the closest we can come to being made whole once more.
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