Whenever I hear today’s first reading I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, which is a story of revenge that ends in tragedy. In seeking to avenge his father’s murder, Prince Hamlet ends up causing the death of just about the entire royal court of Denmark—including himself.
In the first reading David is being hunted down by Saul, who is jealous of the young man’s popularity and success and wants to kill him. David has the perfect chance to kill Saul when Saul enters a cave where David is hiding. But David doesn’t kill Saul—he decides to leave justice in God’s hands.
But can we trust God with our need to see justice done? The answer should be a resounding yes because God is justice. For the sake of justice, God sent his Son to die for our sins. He didn’t want death for us; he wanted life. That’s the justice—and the mercy—of God.
God knows that revenge hurts the person who seeks it more than the person who is targeted. Revenge is always coupled with bitterness and resentment—it’s like an infection that can overwhelm us and lead us away from God. On Judgement Day we will have to give God an account of our actions, even those intended to hurt someone else, no matter how just it seemed at the time.
We may not want to see people killed, but we may well want to steal their happiness so that they can somehow pay for their injustice to us. And we can exact revenge in so many different ways: perhaps by giving someone the silent treatment, or as the English say sending them to Coventry. We may start a rumour about them, or refuse to help them when they’re in need. No matter what the situation, revenge is never the solution; it only causes more suffering and injustice.
How different things would be if we could catch ourselves when we are hurt and turn to God for healing and comfort. How much easier it would be to surrender the matter into God’s hands, as David did. Then we will see justice done, but in God’s time and in God’s way.