Day 25: “An Eye for an Eye” 09.05.2018
Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
In the old movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” Rectevia is the leading citizen in the fictional town of Anatevka around 1900 in Russia. At one point, the people are considering fighting against the Cossacks to defend their little village. One man speaks up and says “Yes, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!” Then Rectevia turns and says “That will be great. We will all be blind and toothless!” A clever response that has burned its way into the minds of some in the pacifistic tradition. Sincere but nonsensical. That statement shows that the person making it simply does not understand the meanings and origins of the Biblical requirement for justice:
Leviticus 24:19-22 (NIV) “If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.”
God is a God of justice. In the ancient world, it was not unusual for a punishment to far exceed the reality of a crime. More than one ancient code called for death if one was found to steal another’s mule. Often, very small infractions yielded horrific and sometimes tortuous sentences. This reality is not unheard-of today. A whole patchwork of laws and consequences still can be found in America. One state gives probation while another demands five years often for the same crime.
The law outlined above was called “The Tooth Law.”
The Latin phrase is “lex talionis” or the “law of retribution.” As it made its way into ancient societies, it was considered enlightened and overdue. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ was in no way being dismissive of that principle. He was speaking of something else to his true disciples. His concern was not civil law but yet another spiritual practice that he expected to see in his own sheep. Namely, you do not have to get even “eye for eye” if you are harmed by another person. Ok. This is quite different.
Jesus would not abridge or dismiss the principle of justice that calls for a commensurate response to harm. What is important here is that Jesus is not addressing the civil authorities if a crime is committed. If a man sets fire to my house, I am not free to “turn the other cheek” even if I want to because he has broken the law. He has not only hurt me but, in a sense, he has attacked the state. Perhaps we should clarify what the Lord Jesus Christ meant by turning the other cheek. In short, the true disciple is willing even eager to behave in a paradoxical manner and BE WILLING TO BE VULNERABLE AS JESUS HIMSELF WAS.
This was a teaching directed at adult disciples reminding them they could react with mercy when harmed. It should be clear that this was not a teaching directed to children on the playground. We raised four sons who experienced the typical bad behavior that can happen among kids. I never asked them to allow themselves to be bullied. Sometimes the best thing for a bully is a good smack for everyone’s sake including his own.
Jesus is saying something much deeper. Jesus wants his own to be willing to be Christlike. To accept injustice when it comes their way. To not respond by demanding every “right” that might ever be available. This all touches on the issue of forgiveness that we will address soon.
Important: as a Pastor I must honor the conscience of individuals. Matters of justice are complicated. The REAL POINT here is to cultivate a Christlike heart that allows itself to remain vulnerable that God may be glorified. “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
As a true disciple, am I a man who will never turn way from people who hurt me? Am I willing, yes eager, to still reach out to those who do not deserve my kindness? Why would I … should I… be that way? Because Jesus said that the goal is to be like my Father in Heaven. Consider:
Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV) “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Question for myself and all of us: Do we want to be like our Father in Heaven? Or are we happy to just be saved? Next: “Love for our Enemies.”
Blessings! Pastor Alberta