Retaliation (Matthew 5:38-42)

Published on Friday, 17 November 2017 05:28
Yesterday we thought about how Jesus applied the law of God to one’s inner attitudes of anger and of inappropriate thinking, and how such thoughts broke the sixth and seventh commandments. He also applied God’s demands in other ways as well, including retaliation.

Legally, it was appropriate to have an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If a person steals a cow, he should restore what he stole plus any loss of income to the owner. Jesus is not suggesting that governments should ignore wrong actions. Instead he is teaching that his followers will rise above personal circumstances and respond differently when necessary. He gives four examples. 

First, what should a disciple do when he is insulted by a slap on the cheek? Normally, the response would be to slap the assaulter. Jesus says that instead his disciple will offer the other cheek. Second, what would a disciple do if he is wrongly taken to court and told to give his accuser a tunic? Jesus says to give the accuser a cloak as well. Third, if the civil authority causes a disciple to carry a load for a mile, the disciple should carry it for two miles (in the process, he would be relieving another person of the burden of carrying it for a mile). Fourth, a disciple should be willing to help people in need.

Obviously, the teaching of Jesus is very demanding. I suspect what Jesus is requiring from his disciple is that he thinks of the spiritual good of the other person. In each of the four examples, the other person would be surprised and probably ask why the disciple had given such an unusual response, and this would give an opportunity for explanation that he served another King. 

And in each of the examples, Jesus tells his disciple to show grace to the other person. Turning the other cheek instead of hitting back is not a sign of weakness. Weakness would be to try and run away. Running away and retaliation are both wrong, so what other option is there? Merely giving a tunic because a court orders a disciple to do is not a sign of him showing grace. Grace is shown when he gives more. Carrying a load for a soldier for one thousand steps was a legal obligation, but to carry it for two thousand steps voluntarily showed grace. Giving to the needy is showing grace.

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