“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:38-42 ESV)
As we continue to study the Sermon on the Mount we come to another passage that is widely quoted while being misunderstood. When a passage is difficult to understand its best to remind ourselves of the context.
Jesus has been clarifying Old Testament laws that had become distorted over time by the religious leaders. He is not denying these laws nor is He creating new laws. God’s laws have always been the same from the beginning.
But over time man-made rules had been added to God’s laws. Jesus is stripping away all of that and is getting back to the original intent of the law – to reveal man’s character and convince him to change his heart.
There is no question that at times we will be wronged – or perceive we have been wronged – by other people. That is human nature born out of our sinful state. Jesus does not deny this. Instead He explains how those of us who are God’s children by faith [John 1:12] should handle ourselves in such situations.
When God gave the law to Moses He instituted the concept of lex talionis which is the law of retaliation. Simply put, this law required that the punishment fit the crime. We know this today at “tit for tat” or “qui pro quo”.
God knew man’s inherent nature would be to seek revenge above and beyond the damages incurred. This would create a never-ending cycle of evil as all parties to an offense sought vengeance. God commands us to seek retribution equivalent to the damages we suffered (eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth) and no more. Vengeance is God’s responsibility, not ours [Deuteronomy 32:35].
In this passage Jesus explains what our attitude should be when we are wronged. We are not to seek revenge. Note that Jesus is not claiming that society does not need laws, police, or prisons. If someone is a threat then the judicial system needs to deal with that person.
Rather this passage is talking about our individual attitude towards those who hurt us. When someone violates us our attitude should be to demonstrate kindness to them. This does not mean we don’t press charges for crimes. Ignoring sin is not helpful to anyone including the criminal. Jesus never ignored sin. But He did always deal with it in a loving way that spoke to the dignity of the human being.
It is man’s propensity to repay evil with evil. But evil can only be overcome with good [Romans 12:21].
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