38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the familiar and turns it on its head. The foundation in each case is the Law of Moses, the spiritual and civil law for Israel over many centuries. The intent of this particular dictum would appear to be “justice,” but “justice” is easily perverted into vengeance and retaliation.
It seems right natural to want to get back at someone who hurts us, offends us, takes from us, causes harm, insults us, etc., doesn’t it? Just watch little children playing or otherwise interacting. One of them takes a toy, the other comes after it, takes something away from them. Even hitting one another seems like a pretty natural event.
We see example after example in the daily news and hear about them in daily gossip. (Those two aren’t always easy to separate, either.) Road rage, gang shootings, vandalism… Seems like it nearly always escalates.
In one of our current viewing addictions, Randa and I have watched a few dozen episodes of “Fear Thy Neighbor.” It’s not a show you ever want to be on; someone has to get killed or at least critically injured. In virtually every case, the feud starts out with something minor. Then payback. More payback. And still more payback until it takes ultimate form.
There is a deep deception in these cycles of vengeance. We convince ourselves that we’re going to gain the upper hand with our retaliation. In reality, Jesus showed us that it is the opposite response that actually demonstrates both control and liberation.
Whenever we respond with actions of retaliation, we continue to be controlled by the other person. Evil given in response to evil. Who wins? I guess it seems like it would be the person who is the most evil, right? “I’m going to treat people the way they treat me!” Really, you want to make someone like that the model for your behavior?!
But when we respond as Jesus teaches—and also demonstrated—we show that we are fully in control. Think you’ve got me? Not even close. I’m a Christian; I can take it. The response of humble endurance breaks the cycle of vengeance, stops the escalation, and keeps us in charge of our own actions. And… it shows our dedication to the Savior who while he was dying a tortuous death prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t realize what they are doing.”