“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” –Matthew 5:38-42
Jesus challenged the way the scribes and Pharisees interpreted and applied the Law of Moses. These religious leaders had been teaching “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” You will find this in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They missed the point entirely; the law was not about getting even but about limiting their sinful desire for revenge.
When someone hurts us, we are tempted to hurt them back in a stronger way. This is how tribal and gang violence spirals out of control. This is why war continues today. Justice would be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but this is instead driven by a sinful desire for vengeance. This is the same spirit behind lawsuits that seek incredibly high monetary damages. How would it impact our lives, communities, courts and governments if we took this teaching of Jesus seriously?
Jesus fulfills and goes beyond the Law of Moses when He teaches, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.” Remember the beatitudes of the persecuted peacemakers. Here He instructs His disciples to turn the other cheek, give their cloak also when they are sued for their tunics, go the extra distance, generously give and do not refuse a loan when one is requested. What was Jesus teaching in this difficult passage? When His disciples live out His eight blessed attitudes, they show the world that mercy triumphs over judgment and that love is the answer to competition, theft, and violence.
In those days, a conquering Roman soldier could legally make a Jewish citizen carry their heavy pack for a certain distance. Rather than resisting, to respond by going farther than required would be a surprising display of generosity to the soldier. Some of the earliest converts in the church were Roman soldiers who became believers because devout disciples of Jesus lived out the beatitudes, even with their political oppressors. Freely you’ve received, freely give, excluding no one.
What does your culture teach you about taking revenge? If you lived out Jesus’ teaching and example of mercy, how would it challenge the people around you?
Take a moment to pray, thanking God that He is merciful. Ask Him to help you show mercy to others, especially those that have hurt you the most.
This post is adapted from a lesson of the Mini Bible College, an online study of the whole Bible. We highly recommend their audio resources and written materials, available in many languages, to anyone who wants a stronger understanding of the Bible.