“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.” — Matthew 5:38-39
Over the course of human history, many countries around the world have had some version of the Law of Retribution, also known as the Law of Retaliation. Retaliation comes from a Latin word that means “pay back in kind.” The earliest known version was in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which dates back more than 3,750 years. And when God gave ancient Israel the 613 Laws of Moses, the Law of Retaliation was included in those laws: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 22:23-25).
So, was the
Law of Retaliation carried out literally? It seems clear that in ancient
God gave the Law of Retaliation to Jewish courts as a guide for handing down just punishments on lawbreakers. But in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were using the Law of Retaliation, which was designed to be used in a court of law, to justify private retaliation in their personal relationships. They used it to justify revenge—in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplaces. Every time someone offended them, criticized them or accidentally tripped them on the street, they believed that they could take the law into their own hands and get some payback. They could “make that person pay for what he did,” and they claimed that God’s law justified it.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that this law was NOT given as a mandate for personal vengeance. He starts with this general principle: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (v. 39). In other words, “Don’t stoop to an evil person’s level. Don’t respond in kind. There is no room in My Kingdom for petty, tit-for-tat vengeance.”
In verses 39-42, Jesus gives us five quick examples of the way we should treat people who have hurt us or wronged us.
Example #1 (v. 39): “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Just as in our day, most people in Jesus’ day were right-handed. So, how would a right-handed person slap you on the right cheek using his right hand? It would have to be a back-handed slap, right? In Israel, a back-handed slap was especially insulting. So, Jesus is saying this: “Christians, if someone insults you in a big way, don’t retaliate by insulting him back. Stand there and take it—as long as you need to—to do the work I’ve called you to do.”
Example #2 (v. 40): “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” If your enemy wants to unjustly take something from you, give him more than he’s asking for. If the judge tells you to give her $500, give her $700 and apologize. Or better yet, give her more than she’s asking for before you ever enter the courtroom.
Example #3 (v. 41): “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” If someone who can’t stand you asks you to help him for 30 minutes with a menial task, help him for an hour instead. Even when someone treats you like garbage, don’t give him your bare minimum effort. Go the extra mile. When someone asks you to wash the dishes, wipe off the countertop as well. When someone asks you to put $5 of gas into their gas tank, put $10 of gas into their tank.
Example #4 (v. 42): “Give to the one who begs from you.” When an undeserving person asks you for something, if he really needs it, GIVE it to him. Now, I don’t believe that this means that God is calling us to give money to every panhandler. In fact, I almost never give money to a panhandler, because, in most cases, it doesn’t really help them. What Jesus is saying is that if someone approaches you with a legitimate need and you have the ability to meet that need, help him—even if that person drives you up the wall. Give it to him.
Example #5 (v. 42): “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” When an undeserving person asks to borrow something from you, if she really needs it, let her borrow it—even if she is rude or mean.
Jesus is really raising the bar, isn’t He? He’s asking those who follow him to do better than the self-righteous, self-serving Pharisees. He’s saying, “Enough already with your shallow, self-centered religion! It’s time to get out of the spiritual nursery and grow up! It’s time to go deeper and aim higher. It’s time to bring heaven—especially the unconditional love of God—to your little corner of the world.”
Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.