The Greatest Sermon Ever 7
Matthew 5:38-42 New International Version (NIV)
Eye for Eye
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
So, there are two great dangers in the studying of this text. One is to say that this teaches us to be completely passive never resisting evil people, and I would argue that that misses what Jesus is emphasising and would be for Jesus to not only contradict the Law that He is describing in this passage, but more so would be to undermine the very heart of God.
The other error would be to then jump to the opposite of this and try and reinterpret what Jesus is saying to fit the fact that we must always stand up for justice and must resist; defend your rights and stand up for yourself.
So, you might have picked up that this is going to be tricky; so I will need you to put your thinking caps on and follow me through what Jesus is saying!
So lets start with what Jesus is addressing when he says;
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth."
Jesus is referring to…
1. The Law of Justice
This is one of the oldest Laws in existence. Called Lex talionis or the Law of retaliation or reciprocity.
This phrase, along with the idea of written laws, goes back to ancient Mesopotamian culture, so in other words it is very, very old!
It is also called the law of equal justice. We find this in the Law (Torah) in Exodus 21:24
"eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."
Now, on the surface of it all, we both agree and disagree this law (almost instinctively), because on one level justice matters, right? I mean if someone takes something from you, there should be some level of retribution. We want people to pay when we have been violated.
This is effectively the primary level of Justice. No one would, if they were a victim of crime, advocate that retribution, or some level of payment for the crime should not be given out. In fact to demand so would be unjust.
But the other problem here is the idea that when we demand vengeance we have a great problem with escalating violence; as Ghandi was said to have said; "An eye for any eye leaves the whole world blind."
So we are left with a crisis; to retaliate or not to retaliate; that is the question.
Essentially this is the law of fairness - and this beats in the heart of every person ever! Because justice matters deeply. The problem we have is that we are so bad at meeting out justice, as human beings. We almost always overreach or do injustice in our seeking of fairness.
And effectively this was the debate of Jesus' day, and it still remains the debate today.
And I love how Jesus both answers this, and is the answer to this. Jesus' looks right into the heart of the law and sees it for what it is it is a demand of love.
2. The Demand of Love
So, and this is important; when we resist evil and demand our rights and call for personal justice, where are we acting from? Are we coming from an objective place that is actually seeking justice or are we coming from a selfish place that is demanding our own. If you are honest we are demanding our own. And that is what I find so fascinating about this passage on all the accounts that Jesus calls us to respond none demand governmental judicial intervention; for example Jesus didn't says when someone kills a family member just forgive the guy, it's okay. No to say so would violate the very core of the nature of Justice.
Every example Jesus uses is an example of personal injury that if we loved the other we would happily incur. And so the call is three fold, however, you can apply it in a number of ways.
But the demand of love demands that we firstly;
a. Love others more than your honour
The first reality Jesus points to is if an evil person is against you, if someone slaps you on your face do not resist or retaliate. Now, again, this is not in the instance of personal safety or the safety of one's loved ones this is a matter of being humiliated.
I mean let's be real a slap on the face is far from lethal. It is an insult. And it was a great sign of disrespect in Jesus' day. And I guess today as well. So Jesus tells us to let it be, to in fact embrace the insult and ask for another one; I mean turn the other cheek is essentially saying do it again.
Now, let's look at this; if someone slaps you across the face, I mean everything inside of you wants to get your own back. But slapping the other person back does that actually help? If I am honest, only if you get in such a slap that you essentially knock him out, but does that actually solve anything? No, It escalates the problem, because, I haven't retaliated with justice, I have gone above what was done to me.
Jesus says our response to humiliation is to embrace our humiliation, to allow myself to be humiliated so as to avoid going into evil myself. How do we possibly do this? Well, through incredible self-security and self-deprecating love.
I will explain how to get this at the end of the message; but that essentially this is the key; you want to rise above the endless cycle of an eye for an eye you have to rise above with love.
Next we have to;
b. Love others more than your comfort
Next Jesus, askes us to give up more than what is asked when someone forcibly demands it. The idea communicated here is that if we are being sued (and the implication is wrongfully sued) for our belongings give up more than what is demanded.
The only way you can comfortable do this is, again, is if you love. It is only when the person matters more than the possession that we are willing to give up on our possessions for the sake of the relationship.
And so the demand essentially is always love people more than stuff! If someone demands give it because that person and the relationship is always more important than the stuff!
Now how do we intellectually and emotionally get there; I'll get to that. But essentially love others more than your stuff. And Jesus ends with this as he says;
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Finally Jesus tells us to;
c. Love others more than your convenience
"Go the extra mile" the colloquialism is from this passage. Now to fully understand this point we have to understand the irrational demand that Jesus was putting on his followers.
In Jesus'time the Roman soldiers; the oppressors of the Jewish people would often take Jewish people and demand that they carry their backpack from a mile. It was essentially slavery; unjust slavery, that would take you a mile out of your way, for nothing, and to add insult to injury it was done by your enemy.
Jesus' says don't just go one mile, go two!
Now, we would help a friend move house, or fix something; but would we do this out of our way things these inconvenient things for our enemy. Well no. Jesus says do that!
And again the answer in how we can actually do this without it making us so bitter that it would destroy us; is to love the enemy. Which is what we are talking about next week.
Love is the key though; love is how we endure humiliation, how we give even when it hurts and how we serve even when it is difficult.
The question we must ask is how do foster this kind of love?
This leads me to my third point;
3. The Conviction of Hope
The only way we could ever live this out is if we are looking outside of ourselves for our fuel to live this kind of love out.
What do I mean here; well we all have a love tank (let's say) a reserve of love energy that enables us to act loving towards others. I would argue that that love tank is quite small, as we generally love those whom we receive love back from or reward back from.
And in fact, if we have a friend who is going through a bad time, it doesn't take long at all before that 'love tank' is at empty and the actions of love for this person dry up.
That is why naturally, we don't love our enemy, because we would impoverish our love tanks in no time at all. Because let's be real our enemy will not return with love the love that we give them.
So how do we overcome this deficiency? How do we love the stranger, the enemy the desperate without it killing us?
Well, church, we need a love that has no end! The good news tonight is that there is a love without end! The love of God in Christ Jesus.
I don't know if you saw this tonight; but Jesus is calling us to go so far beyond our natural selves potential that it is devastatingly impossible. There is no humanly possible way of achieving this.
We have to reach beyond ourselves. And the way we do this; the way we have love for those who humiliate us, for those who demand more than we have and those who abuse us, is to know love that is more than these things.
This is what fascinates me about the message of the gospel; it is not merely an intellectual reality; it is not just figure this stuff out and apply it and your life will be good. It is an experience knowledge that is felt through real love, that impacts our actions and actually changes us; from the core outwards.
And so the application is not to simply know something; or to do something but to believe in the gospel; and by the Spirit of God to have that love that is expressed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ come into our lives and actually be felt in such a way that it changes us.
And the gospel is that we are exactly these kind of people who don't deserve love, we are the ones who slapped God in the face, who demand of Him and give nothing back, who take without ever thinking of giving back. And Yet while we were still sinners Christ died for us!
This love should overwhelm us and fill us so that we have the love in us to love the unlovable.
So, the lesson Jesus is telling us is not to be victims, but to overcome evil with love, not the love that we can muster but the love that was poured out to the world when God sent his only son into the world, so that whoever believes would not perish but have eternal live.
This is love, not that we love but that He first loved us and gave Himself as a ransom for us!
It is this kind of love that will endure evil!