The 1987 movie “The Princess Bride” was become part of pop culture. It wasn’t a huge financial success when it was in the theaters. However it received very favorable reviews and when it was released on home video it went on to become a cult classic. It has been called “the Wizard of Oz” of our time and has become a quotable movie. So for example, Facebook posts use lines from the move like, “Inconceivable!” and “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“The Princess Bride” is a romance and comedy movie. Yet in the midst of the comedy there is – like so many other movies – a story of revenge. In the movie we meet the Spanish pirate Inigo Montoya. He longs to find the mysterious six fingered man who murdered his father and scarred his face years ago. He has spent his entire life training to be a master swordsman so that he can get revenge by killing this man. Over and over he has rehearsed exactly what he is going to say: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Finally during the movie he encounters the villainous Count Rugen – the six fingered man he has been looking for all of his life. They engage in a sword duel and Rugen proves to be far too skilled for Montoya. Montoya is severely wounded and mocked by Rugen for the fact that he has failed in his life’s mission. Yet at that moment, driven by the intense desire for vengeance Montoya begins to say over and over again, ““Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” as he presses the attack. Finally he corners the wounded Rugen and plunges his sword into Rugen’s stomach.
The theme of revenge occurs in movies all the time because it is such a basic human instinct. When wronged, we want to get pay back – we want to get revenge. But in our epistle lesson this morning, Paul tells us that this is not how it is to be for us who are baptized Christians. We are not to seek revenge. Instead we are to leave justice to God as we care for those around us.
It’s not hard to be pick out a recurring theme in our text this morning. Paul begins by saying, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Three verses later he writes, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” And then, in case we missed his point, he goes on to add, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, ‘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 on his head.’” Finally he concludes by saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
There are two sides to what Paul says here. On the one hand he says to bless those who wrong us. To bless means to ask for God’s favor upon a person. It is to ask that God treat them well, and so it is the exact opposite of cursing them.
Paul says that we are to bless those who persecute us. When he gives this instruction, he is simply passing on what Jesus taught. Christ said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Our Lord’s words are helpful because when he says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” he shows us that this love is not some kind of warm fuzzy feeling that we are to conjure up inside of ourselves. Instead, love is an action and not merely an emotion. It is the act of doing good to another.
The other side of this is that are not to seek revenge for specific wrongs. We are not to do this because God is the one administers justice. It is axiomatic in the Scriptures that God rewards and punishes based on what people do. Paul has said earlier in chapter 2, “He will render to each one according to his works.” And when God does this, he acts in a manner that is absolutely fair. Paul echoes a recurring theme in Scripture when he goes on to add, “For God shows no partiality.”
Because this is so, the apostle tells us that we are to leave justice and vengeance to God. Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
Now we all know that time and again this is not how we handle things. As fallen people, the old Adam delights in revenge. We want pay back. And given the opportunity, we extract it. Or worse yet, we seek out the opportunity. Oh we are very good at trying to clothe our vengeful actions in language about “justice” and “fairness.” But these are really just ways that sin works in us. The problem with our vengeance is that it is the playground for the devil. Receiving the harm of one sin becomes the occasion to provoke us to sin even more.
Paul calls us to recognize that this is sin. And then he calls us to be different. At the beginning of this chapter he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This world – this sinful age – operates on the basis of payback and vengeance. But the apostle says that instead we are to be transformed in the renewal of our mind so that we can recognize what God’s will is – his way of doing the world.
For you see, God doesn’t do things in the way of this sinful age. Even though you are someone who wrongs God – someone who rejects the lordship of the Creator of the cosmos as you create your own gods that you fear, love and trust in more than him – he blesses you and loves you. Even though you are someone who wrongs God, He does not seek payback or vengeance or justice against you.
Now in his blessing and love for you who wrong him, he has not ceased to be just. Where his will for the ordering of his creation is rejected, he does not ignore the need for just judgment. Instead, he has loved and blessed you and he has been just by sending his Son to suffer and die for your sin. In chapter three of this letter Paul writes, ‘For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
God loved and blessed you by justly punishing your sin in Jesus Christ. God didn’t bring judgment against you. Instead he executed it upon his own Son. As Paul says elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has justly given you forgiveness, salvation and eternal life.
God has done this for you. He has blessed you who often wrong him. He has not acted in judgment against you because of your sins. And so now, this is the reason you are able to bless those who persecute you instead of cursing. This is the reason you now do not repay evil for evil. It is the reason you do not avenge yourself, but instead leave it to the wrath of God.
This change in behavior is not something you can do on your own. Instead, it is God who does it in you and through you. He does it through his Spirit who has given you new life through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism. The Spirit has worked faith in you. The Spirit nurtures and sustains this faith through the Word and through the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
In Christ this change is present and at work in you through the Spirit. But in yourself you are still the old Adam too. And that is why Paul continues to exhort: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” If you are going to live as transformed people who bless and don’t curse; who leave judgment and justice to God, then you need to cling ever tighter to Christ’s Means of Grace. It is through them that the Spirit supports and fosters this transformation and renewal. It is through them that the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes the source that sustains us in the life of forgiveness and love.
For the more we focus upon Christ’s gifts for us, the more the Spirit leads us to be gifts to others. God’s love received in Christ through the work of the Spirit moves us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Knit together as the Body of Christ in baptism; joined together as the Body of the Lord in the reception of the Sacrament we live in support and care for one another as Christians.
Because Christ humbled himself by serving us, we view others as the having the dignity, worth and value of those redeemed by Christ. As Paul says in our text, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”
God has given us peace in Christ, and so we seek to be at peace with others. Paul says in our text, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” As Paul indicates, there will be those who don’t want to be at peace with us. We can’t change them and what they do. There will be times when they will persecute and wrong us.
But because the Holy Spirit has given us a share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are able to be transformed and renewed in our mind. Because God has blessed us in Christ with forgiveness and love we now bless instead of cursing. Because God has forgiven our wrongs in Christ we do not seek to return evil for evil, but instead we forgive as we entrust all things to God.