The son of a local gangster and his mates break in to John Wick’s house, steal his car and kill his dog. So Mr John Wick is understandably rather displeased. J. W. is a retired hitman, and you don’t cross a retired hitman. He immediately goes down to his cellar, smashes up the floor and – boom! – digs up his retired stash of very big guns with lots of bullets. Stand back – John Wick’s getting payback. When the local gangster hears about what happened he sends a small army round to visit John Wick. A small army? Meh – that’s easy meat for the likes of J Wick Esquire.
This is a film chock full of bad guys getting blown away. And I mean hundreds of them. In fact John Wick’s town must be populated by gangsters because there are only a few folks who don’t appear to want to kill him. But John’s not phased – he’s after revenge and he’s gonna get it. In Genesis 34 there is a tragic tale. A local prince in the town of Shechem meets Jacob’s daughter and immediately falls for her. However, this turns horrific when he grabs her and rapes her. Dinah’s brothers immediately set out to take revenge, not only on the prince but on every man in Shechem. The prince claims to love their sister Dinah and asks to marry her, so the brothers agree, just so long as every man in Shechem is circumcised. They agree to this – and here comes the chance for payback. While the men are recovering from their wounds the brothers pile in, kill them all, and loot the town. Their father Jacob is distraught. ‘You’ve turned my name into a foul stench,’ he says. ‘Now we are a marked bunch – everyone round here will be out to kill us.’
Revenge is an animal that can easily run out of control. The brothers, like John Wick, had been terribly wronged, and perhaps we can understand their hunger for retribution. But the cost is high, and we wonder what it must have done to them to be the perpetrators of such violence. Forgiveness is a hard currency. It costs the earth sometimes. I recall seeing a BBC documentary about the wife of one of the pilots killed on September 11th 2001. She is a Christian and felt the call deep within her to forgive those who had murdered her husband. This Good Friday documentary was called What’s the Point of Forgiveness and it also told of Jesus, dying in terrible pain, murdered by a corrupt system, who called out as he died, ‘Father forgive them. For they don’t know what they are doing.’ Revenge is mine, says the Lord, in Romans chapter 12 and verse 19; and on that Good Friday he chose to deal with it in a radical way. It’s been said that nurturing unforgiveness is a bit like drinking poison yourself and waiting for your enemy to die. Perhaps on that day Jesus drank the poison himself, to help free us from the ill effects that can grow from the desire for revenge and to harbour unforgiveness.