I went to school when paddling was still part of the education process. I was the recipient of a few deserved swats from my parents as a kid (thank you mom and dad for caring enough to discipline), but I was the recipient of exactly one paddling in my entire academic career. It came when I was in kindergarten and was, I assure you, entirely unjustified. The teacher who delivered my paddling wasn’t looking at the kids when he heard talking out of turn, he just stood up walked over to the group, told me to stand up and whacked my backside with his paddle right there in front of the class. The talking wasn’t me, I had been sitting quietly watching him and awaiting instruction. What a grave injustice! I remember the whole thing vividly to this day. But what are you going to do? Plead innocence? Complain? No, you just swallow your objection put your head down and get over it.
Years later I was 17 years old and went with my Kung Fu instructor back to that elementary school to teach an afterschool martial arts class for kids (helping my instructor to drum up some new business). At 17 I was 6’1” agile and ripped in a way that only people in their late teens seem to be. I had my Kung Fu uniform on and my long hair tied in a top knot (samurai style). Walking down the hallway who did I encounter? You guessed it, the very same teacher who had paddled me as a child. I walked up behind him and realizing I was now a head taller than him and considerably more physically imposing, I tapped him on the shoulder. Ah the power dynamics have changed! What to do? How to address my grievance? It went a little something like this:
“You may not remember me, but I went to school here, and I want you to know that you gave me a swat when I was in kindergarten. The swat you gave me was entirely unjustified… I did nothing to deserve it some kids nearby me were making noise and you unfairly targeted me.”
He looked very uncomfortable and then said: “I’m terribly sorry about that”.
I let that hang in the air for a second before smiling and saying “no real harm done… I probably deserved it other times. Just wanted you to know.” Making him squirm for a moment felt okay but smiling with forgiveness evident felt… well, divine.
Christ followers have a forgiveness imperative, but vengeance and the desire for vengeance is a very strong human impulse. Making people pay is the plot of many movies and that thirst for vengeance can consume a great deal of our thinking when we feel we’ve been legitimately wronged or slighted. The leash that holds most people’s vengeance in check is their limited power. But introduce power and influence and what happens? Things can get ugly. An English Lord (Lord Action) popularized the phrase: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We’ve all seen that principle in history’s most notorious tyrants and villains. I would say that this proverb tends to accurate with most humans. But occasionally you find a most Godly person who proves to be the exception: morally dependable even in a position of dominance. This week we’ll discuss that struggle in the life of Joseph. Responding with righteousness in a moment where vengeance is possible, is a hard yet rewarding moral trudge.