Teaching about Revenge
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’39But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.40And if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well.41And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles.42When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’44But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.46Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that!47And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!48 You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18, 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount, presenting himself as the new Moses in Israel. He recalls Mosaic teaching and continues to reveal deeper meanings in these basic principles of living. Jesus addresses the teaching “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (from Exodus 21:24). This is called the lex talionis, or law of retaliation. This biblical principle served to scale back vengeance-based responses to perceived injustice. Compare the situation in Genesis 34, where Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi slaughter every male in Shechem in retaliation for the one Canaanite prince who raped their sister Dinah. Jesus takes us to the next level: We are not to resist the one who is evil, but to pray for him!
Jesus engages the concepts of honor and shame to make his point. In the cultural world of the Bible, you live to gain honor and to avoid shame, at any cost. Now Jesus teaches that if someone should slap you on your right cheek—a blow that must be done backhanded—you are to offer your other cheek in response. Culturally, the backhanded strike is doubly shameful to receive. The monetary fine for such a blow is twice that assessed for striking someone with the open palm of the right hand. Jesus continues: If your outer garment is required as a legal pledge, you should hand over your cloak to an aggressor as well. Endure the shame and move on. The same principle holds true when you are ordered (by a Roman military official) to carry a burden for a mile. Offer to carry the burden for two. Accept the shame and let your action be your witness.
Jesus also teaches that we must even love our enemies. The biblical concept of love is marked by connection, while hate implies a disconnect. Jesus challenges us to love (stay connected) with our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. In this way we will be revealed as the children of our Father in heaven.
Finally, we are called to be “perfect” as our heavenly Father is perfect. The word in Greek, teleios, carries the idea of perfection, but in the context of growing up into maturity. If we are to grow in our faith, we must be willing to “grow up.” This process will require a new way of living.
Turning the other cheek. Giving away my only garment. Going the extra mile. Loving my enemies. These are the challenges that disciples of Jesus face when we commit ourselves to follow him. More challenges are coming. Remember, we are called to live a life of faith that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Losing your life to gain it. Selling everything before you can respond to the call of Jesus to join his company of disciples. Jesus is just getting started!
As we meditate on this section of the Sermon of the Mount, we can ask ourselves what challenge issued by Jesus would be the most difficult to bear. What challenge would produce more shame in our lives but in return would bring Jesus honor? How can we witness to Jesus’s way of living in our own time so that we can reveal to others that we are children of our heavenly Father?
We are called to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. To love is to remain attached, to stay in relationship even with those who are likely to shame and harm us. We must be willing to converse with those we distrust and fear. This is going to be difficult to achieve on our own.
Father, your ways are not our own. You see what we cannot and yet you use us as your eyes and ears and hands in the world. Open my mind. Open my heart. Open my eyes. Open my ears. I want to be used by you to reveal who you are to a world hungry for the transforming power of the true gospel.
Our heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (verse 45). His grace is like the light and warmth of the sun, like rain that waters the land and causes the crops to grow. This grace is everywhere and comes to everyone. We can put up umbrellas to block the sun and shield ourselves from the rain, but this does not stop them from enriching our lives. Take this image into contemplation. Grace as abundant as sunshine and rain. God is at work in our lives so that he can be at work in our world. Put down your umbrella and rejoice in God’s presence.