The idea of holding a grudge against someone hasn’t always been seen as an evil feud that we should always avoid. At different times and places around the world, this has been perfectly acceptable in cultures under certain circumstances. For example, the word vendetta comes from a practice in Medieval Italy, in which a murder could be avenged personally or by hiring a vigilante. Of course, our current definition of the word feud reflects the way that these actions will often lead to an escalation of hatred between people, sometimes a perpetuation of violence between them.
The problem here isn’t that someone is seeking justice, but that our fallen human nature gets in the way of true justice, and it becomes nothing more than vengeance. Our own hearts, as our first reading from Sirach reminds us, sometimes cling to things that are sinful. In cases when we desire something like sinful wrath or vengeance, it is because it feels good now, as we are seeking something that would bring us comfort. Of course, this is quickly fleeting comfort, as the shame of acting on these sinful thoughts would greatly outweigh the short-term satisfaction.
Our reading from Sirach also gives us our path forward in these situations, in the form of a question we must ask ourselves:
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself;
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
First we have to remember that the other individual is a person, like ourselves. Pay attention to how you think about or refer to the person you harbor a grudge against. Do you call them names or deride them, even in your own head? This is the way we dehumanize our enemies, in order to make it easier to hate them, and so must be avoided at all times.
Then, of course, we must also consider how we could ever expect to be treated with mercy if we are not practicing mercy in our own lives. Do we act under the assumption that God will forgive us? Thus, are we holding others to a higher standard than ourselves? What does that say about us? We have to be vigilant with ourselves, so that we are truly seeing those who have wronged us as human beings like us. Only then can we avoid clinging to the sinful inclinations of our hearts that seem comforting in-the-moment, but always lead us out of God’s Grace.