Revenge or forgiveness?
by Janice Ross
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the consequences of betrayal in literature and in the life of Jesus.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to create two flow diagrams and have the means to display them during the assembly:
- the first flow diagram should show Betrayal to Suffering to Anger to Revenge
- the second flow diagram should show Betrayal to Suffering to Acceptance to Forgiveness
- Betrayal is a common theme in literature. Many stories of betrayal have been made into gripping films. When a film starts with a betrayal, the theme is usually one of revenge. The good guy just has to win. When a film ends with a plot twist where a loved one betrays the main character, the storyline often has the audience sitting on the edge of their seats.
- The story of The Lion King is about betrayal. Scar betrays and murders his brother, Mufasa, who is King of the Pride Lands. Scar then makes young Simba, Mufasa’s son, believe that he is responsible for the death of his father. When Simba runs away, Scar takes over the kingdom.
Optional: you may wish to ask the students to suggest other films where the plot is about betrayal and revenge, and discuss these with the people seated near to them.
- The Count of Monte Cristo is probably one of the best films on the theme of betrayal. It is based on the book by Alexandre Dumas and is about a young sailor called Dantès, who is falsely accused of treason by his jealous best friend. The jealousy is over a woman, Mercédès.
Dantès is imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d’If for 13 years. While there, he is obsessed with his desire for revenge and plots vengeance on those who were involved in his betrayal.
Escaping from prison, he transforms himself into the wealthy and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo and sets about seeking out his betrayers. His plans have devastating consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty.
- Show the first flow diagram.
If we were to summarize a storyline based on betrayal, it would probably look like this: Betrayal to Suffering to Anger to Revenge.
If we were to consider our own personal experience of betrayal, we might be able to detect a similar pattern of events. Who among us, if betrayed by a friend, would not initially feel shocked, hurt and rejected? Later, we might move on to anger that someone we trusted could do such a thing to us. Last might come the desire for revenge, if not through our actions, then by words or slanderous comments.
But does revenge help us to feel better?
- We have recently celebrated Easter. For Christians, betrayal features strongly in the story of Easter. Jesus had spent three years with a small group of disciples in whom he had invested his life, his teachings and his love.
These 12 disciples had come to recognize who Jesus really was. They had seen him love and care for the lost, the lonely and the suffering. He had laughed with them, cried with them, walked and talked with them, and shared his life with them, holding nothing back. He had done all this despite knowing that one of them, Judas, would betray him.
At the Last Supper, when Jesus is eating with these 12 friends, he states that one of them will betray him. Shocked, the disciples look at one another, while Judas slinks away to inform on Jesus. Judas tells Jesus’ enemies that he will lead them to Jesus. He receives a bag of silver coins in payment for this betrayal.
- Judas is famous as the betrayer of Jesus. However, the Bible tells us that Judas was not the only one to betray Jesus or let him down in a big way. The very people whom Jesus had walked among for three years, those whom he had healed, fed and taught and whose children he had blessed, also screamed that he be crucified.
‘Let the murderer Barabbas go free instead!’ they yelled.
And then there was Jesus’ dear friend and disciple, Simon Peter. This friend had been convinced that he would follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. However, a few hours after Jesus’ arrest, Simon Peter denied three times that he had ever known Jesus, cursing and swearing that he was telling the truth.
Time for reflection
So, Jesus was betrayed and he suffered in more than one way. His heart ached as he recognized that even those he loved most had betrayed and deserted him. He also suffered physically as his enemies unleashed their fury and the Romans crucified him.
However, this is where the storyline differs from other betrayal stories that we have considered. It may also differ from our reactions to betrayal in our own lives.
Show the first part of the second flow diagram: Betrayal to Suffering.
Jesus’ betrayal and suffering did not lead to anger and revenge. Instead, he accepted beatings and crucifixion even though, as Christians believe, he could have called down the aid of a host of angels.
Show the rest of the second flow diagram: Suffering to Acceptance to Forgiveness.
The joy of the resurrection three days later, and Jesus’ forgiveness of those who had betrayed and crucified him, show God’s way for our life. It is not that God looks on betrayal as acceptable, but that he knows that holding onto the pain and seeking revenge can damage those who are betrayed.
Encourage the students to reflect for a few minutes on any personal experiences of betrayal that they may have had.
Encourage the students to talk to someone about their feelings.
Suggest that there is a better way forward in life than bitterness.
Your ways are different from our ways.
Your message tells us to forgive others.
That is often very difficult for us to do.
Please help us to grasp that forgiveness matters.
Please help us to be people who forgive.