Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Folly of Retribution

"Emerging Beauty"
-in my garden-

The recent story of the three Israeli teenagers who were brutally murdered by Palestinian militants was horrific and tragic. Now just yesterday, in retribution for these murders, some Israeli terrorists took the life and incinerated the body of a 17-year old Palestinian boy on his way to morning prayers at a local mosque in East Jerusalem. Of course this has resulted in even more counter attacks by even more Palestinians as the conflict escalates and threats of an all-out war are looming.  

To me, the events of these past few days are a perfect illustration of the absolute folly of retribution and revenge.  There is no way out of the vicious circle of retribution - it's a downward spiral always leading to a dead end where everyone gets hurt when all is said and done.  

As I reflect on the pattern of revenge and retribution that has so plagued the "Holy Land" over the past many years, I am reminded of the words of someone whose feet once walked upon that soil many years ago - Jesus taught: 

You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. 

The Buddha also taught:

Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating but by love, this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good.

In a world so caught up in the vicious circle of retribution, these words may sound odd and strange- wimpy and weak. After all, this goes directly against the grain of popular culture, and yet this teaching is so very wise and profound - a clear rebuke to the folly of retribution and a practical way to stop the vicious circle from spiraling out of control.

I am reminded of a story told to me a few years back by a former parishioner. He and a roommate were sharing an apartment in Hollywood and they had a serious "falling out." So the roommate packed up and moved cross country - back to New York. In the move, the roommate also took along this man's brand new and just-purchased flat-screen TV, leaving only the remote control "clicker" behind.

As one might image this man was absolutely furious over the roommate's "theft" of his valuable property. This man was consumed with a spirit of revenge, spending most of his waking hours figuring out what he was going to do to repay this guy for what he had done to him: A call to the New York police? Perhaps a suit in small claims' court?  Maybe he should fly to New York and punch the guy out? 

Exhausted by his constant rage against the former roommate, the man went to a friend and mentor and asked for advice about what he should do. The mentor said, "I think there is only one thing you can do- send your former roommate the TV remote he left behind."

At first the suggestion sounded preposterous, but the guy went ahead and did what his mentor advised.  

As he told me the story of packing up and mailing that TV "clicker" to his former roommate now living in New York, the man's face literally lit up. He was smiling from ear to ear and almost laughing out loud at the memory.  

He told me: "When I put that package in the mail it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. I didn't just pack up a TV remote, I packed away all my rage and all my bitterness and I was actually wishing my "enemy" well…...I had been set free."

In the end, anger is always overcome by love and good always conquers evil - this is an eternal truth.


  1. Hello Paul, Yes, I understand what this truth is saying, but how do you accept a concern in a misunderstanding of a relationship with a sibling, who refuses to see that we are all human and we make mistakes and that sibling has an addition to morphine and even her husband and son don't see or acknowledge it?

  2. As I see it, loving someone sometimes means confronting them - sharing truth in love. But this is always done out of love not to assert personal dominance

    Love always overcomes hatred.