“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17)
In this series, we are looking at how Jesus redefined different laws, ideas, and notions by expanding their meanings and, thus, our understanding of the Scriptures.
“I’ll get you for that!” “You’ll be sorry!” It’s a popular notion to get revenge on someone who has wronged us, so popular in fact that it’s an entire genre of movies, and some of the more popular films from the last 20 years are about revenge: Gladiator, The Punisher, Gangs of New York, Django Unchained, The Revenant, the John Wick trilogy, etc. This “eye for an eye” attitude is one that Jesus redefined for His followers.
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
We are going to look at this in two sections. In the first, Jesus is teaching about revenge for a physical attack. Jesus clearly says if someone physically hurts you, it’s not for you to try to physically hurt them back. In fact, Peter would later write that the proper response is to pay them back with a blessing, and Paul would explain that revenge should be left to the righteous anger of God.
“Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD.” (Romans 12:19)
More than likely you won’t have too many people literally hitting you on the cheek, but you may have plenty of people that annoy you or cause you emotional pain. Perhaps it’s the neighbor who plays their music so loudly that everyone on the street can hear it, or maybe it’s the friend who never texts back or is always too busy for you but not anyone else, or perhaps it’s the family member who has hurt you and still hasn’t apologized. In those times, the “eye for an eye” attitude seems very easy and just, and we can begin to think of ways to get even, how to treat them the way they are treating us, but revenge is not for the Christ follower; revenge is for God. When we try to take revenge, we look like the world; when we show grace, we look like Jesus.
Jesus goes on to address being attacked in a legal way. He teaches that if you are sued, then you should give more than is asked. An interesting note culturally: in Jesus’ time, a coat was something that could not be sued for; it was a right of possession, so suing for a coat would be taking too much. Jesus says if someone sues you, you give them that thing that would be too much to lose. If we are storing up treasures in heaven, then it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to give someone our coat. What’s that thing you feel you can’t give up, you can’t live without, something you would refuse to give away? Perhaps it’s the very thing you need to let go of.
Jesus also addresses a law of the time: during the Roman occupation, a soldier could demand that a Jew carry their gear, but the Jew only had to carry it for a mile. Jesus raised the bar for His followers. Anyone could be picked at any time to have this shameful burden thrust upon them, and Jesus says, if this happens to you, carry their gear two miles. It’s a phrase we still use today—“go the extra mile”—and this would have certainly made Jesus’ followers stand out. We too should stand out as His followers by how we are willing to serve and obey those who have been appointed to positions of power and look for ways to go the extra mile.
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” (Romans 13:1)
Finally, Jesus sums up the entire message by telling His followers to give to those who ask and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. If we hold on to things too tightly by storing up treasure on Earth, it’s hard to let others borrow things. But if we store up treasure in Heaven, we can let go of things on Earth and have an easier time giving things away. Remember to show grace rather than seek revenge, go the extra mile, and store up your treasures in Heaven. May everyone who sees us, see Christ.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.