Jesus is concerned with how you respond when other’s wrong you. We’ve all been in a situation where someone has wronged us in some way. Perhaps we’ve had a boss who lives to make our life unbearable, or maybe even a family member who loves to see us squirm. Whether in these situations or others, we’ve all been in situations where someone else has wronged us. And in such situations how should a Christian respond? Should we retaliate? Jesus instructs His people in His sermon on the mount and shows what life in His Kingdom looks like.
Jesus says, “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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:38-39 ESV) Of the sayings of Jesus this is perhaps one of the more famous. However, Jesus is not demanding that His servants become punching bags or systematic victims of abuse. Some Christians in the history of the church have also used this very passage to defend non-violence. However, whenever we read a passage of Scripture we must view it in light of the whole. This teaching of Christ comes in the midst of His exposition on the Law. The very passage He quotes comes from the Moses’ teachings in a legal situation and the word “resist” is itself a legally charged word. With that context in mind, we must view these verses as being with reference to the believer in a legal or judicial context.
Looking back to Moses though, we see one of the oldest laws in the Near East (dated as far back as the 18th century B.C. in the codes of Hammurabi). The law of retribution (called ‘Lex talionis) was a law originally intended not to allow for vengeance but to restrain retaliation. In the Mosaic Law it was meant to guard against vendettas of revenge, therefore as one commentator writes we should read the law as such: (Only) an eye for an eye and (only) a tooth for a tooth. Yet in the time of Christ, people had forgotten the intention of this law and instead used it for selfish means. Therefore, Jesus’ teachings, as have come to be expected at this point, are radically counter-cultural. Rather than enabling His disciples to stand on their rights and make their enemies suffer Jesus commands them to be gracious, even to the point of insult or injury. Jesus is not saying you cannot defend yourself, your family or even your country, however, Jesus is saying that we need to be willing to suffer insult because God did not strike us as we deserved when we insulted His name.
God has demonstrated ineffable patience towards us and our insults. We have been made the recipients of God’s grace: purchased by Christ’s life, applied by the Holy Spirit, caused by the unconditional election of God. God has taken tremendous insult from us, yet remained merciful to those whose insults have been covered by faith in Christ. Are you like your heavenly Father today? Are you patient with those who have wronged you, or are you quick to retaliate against them because of your unwillingness to show them the very grace you’ve claimed to receive? Our actions will always demonstrate who the Lord of our heart is. May your heart sing forth the reality that your faith in Christ is genuine, and how Christ lives so go ye.