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Here are Jesus' thoughts on how to turn an injury or injustice into a healing experience.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
"If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
"Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV
Breaking the Cycle of RevengeSometimes Jesus used hyperbole to give impact to his teaching. In other words, he exaggerated for greater effect. When speaking about lust, Jesus said we should tear out an eye or cut off a hand if it causes us to lust. He didn't mean that literally. It was strong imagery and people got the picture. When speaking about oaths Jesus recommended that we just say "Yes" or "No". He didn't mean that literally either. He meant speak the truth simply, clearly, and without a lot of words that confuse, distort or manipulate the issue. Always it is important to focus on the message Jesus has for us without getting tangled up and lost in the actual words he used. This is especially true in the "eye for an eye" passage.
The ancient law set the conditions for retaliation and restitution. It's recorded in Leviticus 24:17-22. The intent of this law was not to endorse the taking of revenge, but to limit and reduce the amount of revenge. You may do to the person who has harmed you exactly what he did to you. This law made sure that vengeance was dealt fairly and when it was accomplished, the episode was over.
The Old Testament law gave us the right to get even. But Jesus said no, don't claim that right. When someone harms you, don't resist them! Once more Jesus set a vastly different standard for his disciples. We are to get rid of that old tit-for-tat attitude and not exact blow for blow, injury for injury. Instead we are to let our light shine into the darkness by taking the initiative to break the vicious cycle of discord and violence.
Jesus made four very startling statements:1) Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. William Barclay in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew shed some light on this. A right-handed person would use the palm of the hand to hit the left side of his opponents face. To hit the "right" check would require hitting with the back of the hand, which in that culture was twice as insulting as hitting with the flat side on the hand. Therefore what Jesus said is, even when you are hit with a most calculated insult, you must not slap back or fight your opponent in any way.
2) If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
The tunic refers to clothing and people owned more than one such garment. But most people had only one cloak, or coat, which for a poor person doubled as a blanket by night. A cloak could be given as a security pledge during the day, but at dusk the law required that it be given back so the person would stay warm during the night. In that sense a cloak was a legal right, and no one should be deprived of it. But, Jesus said, don't claim your rights. If someone sues the shirt off your back, give them your coat too!
3) Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
This is a picture from an occupied country. It was not unusual for a citizen to be forced into service at a soldier's command. An example of this was Simon of Cyrene who was ordered to carry Jesus' cross up the hill to Calvary. Here again Jesus said we are to take the initiative and offer more than is expected of us! We are to go the second mile, not under compulsion but willingly and by choice.
4) Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Now Jesus has even crossed the line right into our wallets and possessions. We are to be generous with anyone who asks anything of us! And not hide from the person who wants to borrow. Even when we are not threatened with violence and someone quietly asks for our money, we are to give and not keep score! Even privately and in our own homes, when a relative wants to borrow something we have, we are to share without anger and piercing words.
Publicly, privately, with friends or foes, strangers or relatives--we are to resist vindication. End the grudge, cut short the quarrel, stop the attacks, prevent the violence of further injury, and be generous with kindness and possessions.
Jesus spoke in black and white. You were with him or against him. A child of God or a child of the devil. The gray words that you read in these studies--maybe, possibly, sometimes, etc--these are my words. Jesus never used them. So in this passage there are two methods of dealing with your adversary. One is to strike back and fight one evil with another evil. The symbol for that is the sword. The other way is to absorb the blows and overcome evil with goodness. This is what Jesus taught and the symbol is the cross.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Think about a startling statement you heard this week. What was it? And how did you react when you heard it?
Which is the hardest to do--Give someone your "cheek", your coat, a second mile or some money?
What is a common thread that runs through Jesus' four statements? Would you like to argue with him on any of them? If so, which one and what would you tell Jesus?
The emphasis of this passage is not the opponent and the harm he did to you. It's about you and your actions. How can you become free from the need to strike back when you are hurt? Describe a situation in which you acted to discourage further injury. What is one thing Jesus is specifically telling you to do in this passage?
Revenge is a reaction to something that some else did to you. That puts the other person temporarily in charge of your life. Jesus wants us to act, to take the initiative and be in charge of our own life. What are some examples showing how you or someone else reacted instead of acting? If we don't resist when attacked, does that make us weak?
Do you know of any instances when non-violence paid off? If you refuse to participate in violence and discord, does that end the fight? How do you know when a victory has been won? Would you continue hitting someone who did not return your blows? Why or why not?
Discuss the images of weakness and strength in the life of Jesus. In what ways was he strong? When was he weak and vulnerable? How did Jesus overcome evil with good?
There will always be extreme people with no honor or sense of shame. There are unredeemable situations in which submission becomes destructive to all. Does that mean there are people for whom these tactics of Jesus will not work? Does it also mean that when you use these tactics with reasonable success, you are bringing out the best in your foe?