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Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

A different vision

It’s always important to remember that Jesus wasn’t making up new stuff; he was making an argument about the heart of Israel’s ancient faith. He took seriously this rich tradition that spoke of a God of widows and orphans, who set people free from bondage, who summoned Israel to be a light for the nations, who was Lord of all creation.

The prayer for God to forgive “as we forgive” is not a transaction: if you do this, I will do that. It is an embodiment of this ancient vision that we are not meant to live in a world of revenge but a world of communal solidarity. The grace we show (or should show) to members of our family and kin is the grace we should show to all people.

We slip too easily back into a world of getting even. Imagining a god (or “the market”) that punishes sins and blesses good behavior leads to a human community of reward and revenge. It is a world where the poor are poor because of their own lack of effort and the rich are the true children of God. It is a world where prisons are harsh, not places for education or rehabilitation. It is the world of the food chain where the true order of things is wolves preying on the young and the weak.

God has a different vision. And living in and from mercy is its center.