Staving off Vengeance

A conversation on Jesus’s teaching against vengeance and human way of retribution.

Reading God’s Word in Scripture is inspiring. As often as I do, I’m filled with joy. It is a “lamp to my feet and light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

In these words, I find not just comfort and inspiration, but also a transformative power that ignites a passion for what is good, praiseworthy, and just. It’s like a double-edged sword, cutting through my heart with its discerning and challenging insights, and yet, it’s a sword that heals and strengthens. Such is the power of God’s Word (see Heb 4:12).

In Scripture, God points us toward holiness, a path that is not a game of fantasy. Many of the texts are revolutionary.

Take, for example, the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-42. It is one of the sermons the Lord delivered on the Mount, popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. Hearing those words, we see that the Lord’s ways differ.

Jesus’s Way

The Lord tells us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).

Those words were addressed to his audience at the time. They are equally addressed to us today.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a human way of retribution. It is the lex talionis (the law of retaliation).

For the ethical person of the time when the Lord spoke those words, this law was morally just and was an accepted social practice. It was expected that when harm is done to another, commensurate harm should be done against the culprit to bring closure to the damage done to the innocent.

Naturally, we feel that way, don’t we? The desire to pay back in the same coin to someone who has hurt us feels natural, doesn’t it? We feel and think a sense of need to do so. The sense of need we think to retaliate often turns into a duty. We feel justified when we do. But the Lord’s ways are different.

Vengeance is Evil Harbinger

In the above text, the Lord shows us a completely different way of responding to the harm done to us. For anyone the Lord is calling unto His way of holiness, it must be different. No spirit of vengeance whatsoever is to be in the believer’s heart. The Lord proposes zero tolerance for vengeance. In short, vengeance, no matter the pretense, is an evil harbinger. Evil is evil no matter where it is found.

However, we are not to take “turning the other cheek” and “going two miles” at the request of our enemy literally. It is a metaphor. The Lord uses metaphors to teach heavenly truths. We must see them as applying patience and charity in dealing with people whose ways are evil. This was how some Fathers of the Church interpreted the text. We can’t stave off evil by being vengeful. We triumph over evil by showing its contrast, “turning the other cheek.” Only light conquers darkness, for darkness can’t overcome itself kind.

I know this can be challenging. It isn’t a popular ethical code either. Nevertheless, the grace of God will help us.

I am praying for the grace of love, patience, and forgiveness. Amen.

Remember, God loves you. His love is a constant source of comfort and reassurance in our lives. May His blessings be upon you always.

God love you. God bless you.

[Readings: Monday, Week 11 Ordinary Time B: 1 Kings 1:21-16; Matthew 5:38-42]

Fr. Maurice Emelu

Father Maurice Emelu, Ph.D., is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu in Nigeria and the Founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries. An assistant professor of communication (digital media) at John Carroll University, USA, Father Maurice is also a theologian, media strategist, and digital media academic whose numerous works appear on television networks such as EWTN. As he likes to describe himself; “I am an African priest passionately in love with Christ and his Church.”


  1. JohnBosco on June 17, 2024 at 11:52 am

    Vengeance is an evil harbinger.
    “We triumph over evil by showing its contrast….”

    Thank you, Fr., for the wonderful reflection and for those beautiful words. May God help us and help the world. Amen.

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