Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Soul Poison

"Olive Branches in the Moonlight"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

After the attack on Brussels yesterday, the American presidential candidates all weighed in as to how they would have responded to the mass killings if they had been president. One candidate said he would “carpet bomb” every village occupied by the ISIS terrorists, everything would be reduced to rubble and no one would be left alive. Another candidate said that he would resort to as much torture as possible to get information about any future terrorist attacks.

As I listened to all this violent rhetoric of unrestrained retribution on the news last evening, another story surfaced. Covered in blood and dust and standing in the midst of all the destruction, a young woman who had been on the train that was bombed cautioned a news reporter: “We cannot allow what happened to poison our souls.” It was a statement of profound wisdom.

Of course people are fearful and angry over brutal acts of terror such as those perpetrated in Belgium yesterday; yet it seems to me that the desire for revenge and brutal retribution is indeed poison for the soul.

I am reminded of something Nelson Mandela once said. After all the oppression his fellow citizens suffered under the oppression of “apartheid” one would imagine he would be filled with a spirit of revenge and yet as he languished in a South African prison cell, Mr. Mandela cautioned against holding onto anger and said:

Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.

Resentment, retribution and revenge is indeed  poison - it doesn’t do much to kill an enemy but it sure can kill the soul.

Like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King also had every reason imaginable to be resentful and to desire revenge against the many hateful people who perpetrated so many acts of racial cruelty in the “Deep South” of his times. And yet Dr. King knew that revenge was poison for the soul and that when you respond to hatred with more hatred you only make hate grow.  He said:

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that….

There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.
When we discover this we are less prone to hate our enemies.

On the Christian calendar, today is “Wednesday in Holy Week,” traditionally a day to remember how Jesus was betrayed by his good friend Judas.

As the story goes, on the night before he died Jesus and his disciples went out into an olive garden to pray under the light of the full moon; but Jesus’ good friend Judas was not among them in that garden. Instead Judas had gone to fetch the police so that they might arrest Jesus whom he was about to betray. As they arrive in the garden, Judas identifies Jesus to the police by kissing him on the cheek – a horrendous act of vicious betrayal coming from someone who was such a dear friend.

There is also a related story, not found in the scriptures, nonetheless a beautifully tender tale. According to this legend Judas has now died - after betraying Jesus he felt so guilty that he went out and hung himself and he is now suffering in hell.  Jesus who has also died on the cross suddenly appears and stands before Judas, his once-beloved friend who has so cruelly betrayed him. Upon seeing Jesus standing there, Judas crouches in fear expecting retribution and revenge - but that’s not what happens. Filled with compassion, Jesus lifts up Judas and he kisses him on the cheek as a sign of forgiveness and suddenly Judas finds himself in heaven

A kiss of betrayal is redeemed by a kiss of compassion and forgiveness

Such a wonderful story and beautiful metaphor for these days when shrill cries of retribution and revenge fill the air.


  1. There's another perspective on the Judas story. He might have been asked by Jesus to turn him in so that prophecy would be fulfilled. Jesus needed someone to trust who was capable of understanding why this needed to occur and would actually fill that role. We will never really know since we weren't there.
    Concerning the revenge response, when carpet bombing, there will always be collateral damage present. That will always cause more and more hatred between the sides.The back and forth will probably just go on indefinitely through time, causing people to try to find a way out of this type of existence. That might be the difference between living in a lower world considered hellish vs working into a different level of consciousness in which those actions don't exist.

    1. Great comment, Kevin. Thanks. By the way I agree about Judas. I recount the story because of that beautiful legend about the kiss of betrayal and the kiss of compassion.