Cain…you remember Cain. One of the sons of Adam and Eve.
Cain killed his brother Abel.
There’s one piece of this story we never want to forget.
If the blood of anyone cries out for vengeance, it is the blood of Abel.
Yet, in response to Abel’s murder, God does not end Cain’s life.
God spares his life…sends him into exile…banishes him to wander the earth.
God not only spares Cain’s life but protects it with a warning, with a divine threat.
When Cain says to the Lord “…now anyone can kill me on sight”,
the Lord says “not so. If anyone kills you, you will be avenged seven times.”
This protection is understood in Catholic thought
as an expression of God’s hope in the possibility of reform and redemption.
A story in the Book of Genesis most of us don’t know
is the story of Lamech, one of Cain’s descendants….his great-grandson I believe.
Lamech is wounded, bruised by a young man.
Lamech kills the young man. But he goes overboard with his revenge.
He states “I will avenge the harm done to me 77 times.”
In other words, Lamech boasts that he will indulge in unlimited vengeance.
When Peter asks Jesus “how often must I forgive someone who sins against me?”
he is thinking about avoiding God’s vengeance on anyone who would harm Cain.
It is honorable to be like God regarding the matter of forgiveness.
And God’s forgiveness of Cain was seven times greater than Cain’s sin.
Cain took one life. God gave Cain seven lives.
Jesus responds to Peter’s question with reference to Lamech’s boast.
Remember, the young man harmed Lamech once.
Lamech boasts that he will respond with unlimited vengeance.
So when asked about forgiveness, Jesus says
“you must respond to those who sin against you with unlimited forgiveness.”
We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are not to indulge in any vengeance, ever,
when someone sins against us
When someone sins against me, causes me harm,
I want to want to kick them in the backside.
I want to hold them down and give them a taste of their own medicine.
But just because I want to, doesn’t mean I should.
These wants are temptations, temptations to vengeance.
Why should we avoid indulging in vengeance like the plague?
Vengeance is a matter of returning sin for sin, evil for evil.
We must also remember: evil is its own vengeance. Wickedness is its own vengeance.
Sin is its own vengeance.
What do I mean by this?
Sin always makes life worse. It never makes life better.
Sin is a self-inflicted wound. Sin always harms the sinner.
Those who sin, by choice or by ignorance, are adding misery to their own lives.
If sin is never acknowledged, if there is no repentance, no conversion, no amendment,
the misery it causes becomes eternal. We call this Hell!
To choose to return sin for sin is to choose to misery.
To choose sin is to choose Hell.
The only remedy for sin, the only choice that counters the misery caused by sin,
the only acceptable Christian response to sin…is forgiveness.
From a Christian perspective, a Christian vision of the world,
no human being as a right to vengeance.
Now human beings have a right to justice….but not vengeance.
“Vengeance is mine” says the Lord.
In the Book of Deuteronomy God says to his people
“I will take vengeance on your enemies.”
In a way He’s saying “don’t get your hands dirty. Leave this matter to me.”
In his Letter to the Romans Paul says
19 “….Do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath;
for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
20 Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;
for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
21 Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”
To take vengeance, to return sin for sin, is to be conquered by evil.
It is to turn aside from the path of life.
Those conquered by evil will be oppressed by evil, imprisoned by evil.
They are doomed by evil and will live in the forever darkness of evil.
There is another facet of this reality worthy of our attention this morning.
I believe it is a misunderstanding to equate forgiveness with passivity.
When someone sins against us we just don’t sit there and take it.
We have a responsibility for protecting ourselves.
We have a responsibility for protecting the innocent.
That’s what heaven is: protection…..eternal protection from sin.
“Heaven on earth” is protecting ourselves, protecting others from sin.
And you thought it was something else. (Silly rabbit!)
In the face of sin Jesus Christ is not passive. He is active.
His death on the cross is not passive. It is sacrificial.
He gives his life. He sacrifices his life to save us, to save our world from sin.
He is divine. He could have crushed his oppressors like ants….destroyed them…but he didn’t.
Grace, forgiveness, goodness, virtue, faith, hope and love….these protect us from sin.
Jesus brought all these to bear, and more, when confronted by sins against him.
We think non-violence is passive. It is not.
To conquer sin with good is not passive. It is active.
To do nothing in the face of sin and evil is passive.
To seek justice, to show mercy, to protect the innocent…these are active pursuits.
If we are not actively confronting sin and naming it for what it is….
if we are not actively offering forgiveness, if we are not countering sin with goodness,
if we aren’t praying for sinners,
if we aren’t protecting ourselves and others from sin,
if we are not responding to the evil in this world in any way
other than doing to others what they do to us,
then we are no friend of God.
When it comes to being Christian, when it comes to responding to sin,
there is no getting even.
Get this idea, this thought, this desire, out of your head and out of your heart.
If not faced, if not countered with forgiveness,
vengeance becomes habitual, even addictive.
And as many of us know, overcoming addiction is far from easy.
Without forgiveness, peace is not possible.
Without forgiveness, true happiness, true joy, are not possible.
What do we do when someone sins against us?
What do we do when sin saddens us, breaks our heart?
We show unlimited forgiveness.
We offer unlimited mercy.
And we actively counter sin with unlimited goodness and unconditional love.
I dare say….we all have some important work to do.
Today’s prayer: “O Lord, you actively work to save us from sin. Help us to grow in our awareness of this work and to actively participate in this work. Through Jesus Christ Your Son, give us strength and courage. Protect us from evil and sin, now and for all eternity. Amen!”
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cain…you remember Cain. One of the sons of Adam and Eve.