There’s an ancient African saying: The axe forgets but the tree remembers. 1 It’s about never forgiving for harm that has been caused. It’s about never letting go of the hurt and anger which continue to burn within the heart. It’s about revenge.
When Jesus walked the earth, this was how Jews felt about their enemies. The Romans who brutally ruled over them. Samaritans who did not worship as they did. Gentiles who they regarded as worthless humans. Jews who betrayed them.
They may have heard Proverbs…If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. But they remembered…In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. 2
Revenge seeks to follow our own heart.
Then Jesus shocked them. I tell you: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.3 And though they heard His words, they remembered the burning coals.
Later Paul would repeat Jesus’ command. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not take revenge…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 4
He also brought up the burning coals, yet it was not about hurt, anger or revenge. Many believe this to be an old Hebrew saying that sees the acts of kindness as causing the “enemy” to be ashamed of his hostility. But there is something else here.
Love seeks to follow the heart of Jesus.
Winters were often brutal. If someone’s fire went out, he had to borrow burning coals to restart it. Giving him live coals was a kind act that soften hearts and made friends. It also saved lives. Offering food and drink would do the same.
From Solomon’s proverbs to Jesus’ words and Paul’s writings, God commands that we love one another. There is no room for anger and hurt to fester. There is no place for revenge to strike. People will know we follow Jesus by our love for them.
By the way, when people needed to borrow those burning coals, they carried them home on a clay or metal pot or pan…placed upon their heads. Hmmm. Be careful what you choose to remember.
Chuck Graham is Founder and Executive Director of Ciloa, an international ministry devoted to encouraging others and teaching them how to encourage one another. He is also an author and speaker. Chuck and his wife, Beverly, live in Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA. Learn more about Chuck and Ciloa at www.Ciloa.org.
Footnotes: (1) A Zimbabwean proverb from the Shona tribe. (2) Read Proverbs 25:21-22. (3) Read Luke 6:27-28. (4) Read Romans 12:14,17,10,21.
Pictures: Banner Photo: Burning Coal by kuschelirmel-stock.deviantart.com. 1st Photo: The axe forgets but the tree remembers, poster by redbubble.com. 2nd Photo: Romans 12:21, photographer unknown. 3rd Photo: John 13:34 poster from Love One Another by Larry Murray, following-jesus.blog.