Text: Matthew 5:38-42
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“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” (vv. 38-39).
Revenge Is Sweet?
When someone mistreats us, the natural reaction is to want to get revenge. We say, “Revenge is sweet.”
Followers of Jesus are to be different by not desiring revenge when people mistreat them.
An Eye for an Eye
Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (v. 38; cf. Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). The principle of “an eye for an eye” was meant to guide the judges of Israel so that the punishments that they handed out would fit the crimes—not too harsh or lenient. It was not meant to encourage personal revenge (“You shall not take vengeance,” Lev. 19:18; cf. Deut. 32:35; Prov. 20:22; 24:29; 25:21-22).
But I Say to You
Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil” (v. 39). And then he gives four illustrations of not resisting an evil person.
- “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 39).
- “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (v. 40).
- “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (v. 41).
- “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (v. 42).
Jesus is not giving us rules; he’s challenging our thinking. We are to be willing to suffer wrong-doing (see 1 Cor. 6:7).
What About Justice?
Shouldn’t we seek justice? First, we should seek justice for others when they are harmed. If we didn’t seek their justice, we wouldn’t be people of love. Second, when we are personally harmed we are not to seek revenge. Instead, we must leave the carrying out of justice to our governing authorities (Rom. 13:4) and God (Rom. 12:19).
Our Lord Is Our Model
The Apostle Peter writes, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Peter 3:9). Is this too much to ask? No, because Jesus has already done it.
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23).Jesus knows what it’s like to be mistreated: “They spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him” (Matt. 26:67; cf. Isa. 50:6). Think about God in human flesh being spit in the face, struck, and slapped. And he didn’t seek revenge. Instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Jesus calls us to follow his model “so that [others] may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).