Ingratitude Returns Evil

For Thursday, May 18, 2006
Proverbs 17:13

If anyone returns evil for good,
evil will not depart from his house.

In Psalm 109:5, David writes concerning his adversaries, "They have rewarded me evil for good and hatred for my love." As a leader of Israel, their king, it was David's obligation to seek the good of God's people, but not all were able to accept David's leadership. The root sin involved here is, I suspect, one of ingratitude, a failure, first of all to even recognize and receive the good as good.

Thomas Aquinas notes that there are three sorts of ingratitude that we encounter in our dealings with others (Summa Thelogiae II-II.107.2). First, there is the person who "esteems our kindness as if it were unkindness." Second, there is the person who "finds fault with a favor received." And, third, there is the person who "returns evils for good."

Today's proverb speaks of this third, most extreme expression of ingratitude.

Repaying the good with evil, however, is has consequences, not only for the one who acts in this way, but also for those closest to him. A son who abuses his family's kindness in ways hurtful to them, a spouse who is unfaithful to a devoted and supportive partner, a boss who violates the trust of those who loyally labor under him, and so on. All of these return evil for good and, in so doing, bring ruin upon themselves those around them.

But the most egregious example is our fallen human reaction to the greatest kindness ever rendered to us: God's gift of Jesus, David's greater son.

In his commentary on David's words in Psalm 109, Augustine writes,
When they ridiculed the one whom they crucified, as if he were a man they thought they had conquered, they belittled him; yet, from that cross he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Thus, while in the depth of their malice they were rendering evil for good, he in the height of his goodness was rendering good for evil.
Jesus' example also gives us a model of how we should respond when our goodness is abused ungratefully. Augustine continues,
The divine words teach us by our Lord's example, that when we feel others are ungrateful towards us - not only so they do not repay us with good, but even return evil for good - we should be in prayer. Christ prayed for others who were raging against him, who were sorrowful, whose faith was in danger. But we should pray first for ourselves, so that by God's mercy and aid, when others belittle us in our presence or absence, we might conquer our own mind, which carries us toward desire for revenge.