Matthew 5:38-42A fifth example of the Jesus way of living has to do with the law of retaliation. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is one of the most ancient laws in the world. It was intended, originally, to limit retaliation. Therefore, if someone took out your eye you weren’t allowed to take their life away.
Jesus said to the crowds, "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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."
But once again, Jesus takes things further and deeper. He says we should not retaliate at all. If someone slaps us with the back of their hand on the cheek, in other words if someone insults us, then we should turn the other cheek toward them, thus inviting them to hit us full force. Hitting back only keeps the round of evil going endlessly. But when you turn the other cheek it is a statement that you refuse to retaliate, thus drawing a line in the sand.
We see how this works all the time with our children, don’t we? They get into fights or arguments and they go on and on because no one is willing to simply stop fighting or arguing. I usually invite whichever one of my sons is older to just back off, to give in. That’s what Jesus is talking about here. The more mature person should put a stop to the cycle of evil by not retaliating.
Jesus gives two other examples of the same principle. If someone sues you for something, give them more than they are asking for, rather than trying to get back at them. If the occupying Roman army in Palestine forces you to carry their equipment for one mile, carry it for two miles.
These are just three illustrations. Whatever situation we are in, we need to think what it would mean to live out God’s generous love and then do just that.
There was a black Christian leader who once said the following about how he handled life under Apartheid: “When I have been unjustly forced into some menial action I complete it, and then turn and ask my ‘boss’ if there is anything else that he would like me to do to help him. This totally takes the wind out of his sails: he can hardly believe any wronged party would respond like that.”
That is exactly the point. Followers of Jesus should cause astonishment by the way they handle injustice. And what is our power and motivation for acting this way? Jesus is. He handled the injustice of the cross by not fighting back and he can empower us to do the same.