The Commands of Jesus: Do not resist an evil person… (Matt. 5:38-42)
There is a very iconic phrase in this passage, turn the other cheek. We often use this phrase when someone wrongs us. Instead of retaliating, we “turn the other cheek.” Within this passage, there are some hard sayings to follow if we are to take them literally. We are told:
Do not resist an evil person;
When slapped on the right cheek, offer the other cheek as well;
If someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well;
If forced (by a soldier) to go one mile (and carry his gear), go with them two miles.
How literally are we to take these verses?
All of these verses describe actions that do not necessarily come naturally to us. Especially the first two. Unprovoked assault prompts resentment and retaliation. This is a clue that the lifestyle of the kingdom is more demanding than the Law of Moses.
We need to keep in mind the command of the Law that Jesus deals with here in verse 38, “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’” This comes from Exodus 21.24. This sounds bloodthirsty but actually had a merciful aspect to it. It was supposed to limit vengeance. It actually was used in practice by putting monetary value to things and compensating for losses.
The first part about resisting an evil person, I’ve seen interpreted as saying, “do not render evil for evil.” Does that make any difference?
Offer your left cheek? Striking someone on the right cheek would have involved a back hand which was twice as insulting at to hit someone with the flat part of the hand. It isn’t very often that we are slapped on the face but often times we are insulted. Jesus is telling us not to resent insults and not to seek retaliation.
The tunic: The tunic was the inner garment made of cotton or linen to be worn as a liner to one’s outer cloak. Barclay says that even the poorest man would have a change of tunics. The cloak was the great, blanket like outer garment of which most Jews would only have one. Read Ex. 22.26-7, the point being that by right a man’s cloak could not be taken permanently from him.
What Jesus was probably saying is Christians do not need to stand upon their rights; they should not dispute their legal rights. They are not as important as acting with integrity…
Go the extra mile – While living in an occupied country, people can (and are) impressed into service (giving food, lodging, horses, assistance…see the Quartering Act of Revolutionary War time). We saw this with Simon of Cyrene. Jews could be impressed into service at any time. Maybe Jesus is saying don’t go a mile with bitter and obvious resentment, go two miles with cheerfulness and with a good attitude. Think of your duty and privilege to be of service to others. When a task is laid on you, even if the task is unreasonable, don’t do it as a grim duty to be resented, do it as a service to be gladly rendered.
Giving – one should lend to those from whom one does not expect to receive repayment, even if it is to one’s enemies.
This teaching comes in the context of not seeking revenge. How does Paul instruct us in regards to revenge?
Read Rom. 12.17-21
This is very similar. Do not repay evil for evil. God is the one who sees injustice and he is the one who will deal justly. Vengeance is His. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Question: How do we live out these simple injunctions when our time is so different than Jesus’? Are there any examples of this you can think of?
We, in America, even as Christians, are so concerned to assert our rights. It seems that Jesus here is saying that the disciple should not necessarily insist on their personal rights. Plus, the true disciple does more than is merely expected. (How often, especially in work or school settings do we do just enough to get by?) We should be freed from society’s low standards of expectation. We should be better than that.
We can get to this stage when we realize that we also are the unworthy ones who have experienced the good things of the gospel of Jesus. We’ve experienced unexpected grace.
Read Luke 6.34-36 to get a sense of what Jesus is asking here.
Read Rom. 5.8-10 (sinners and enemies is how we are described in our pre-Christian life.)
Hopefully these reminders will teach us to rely on God for justice when we’ve been treated unjustly (yet we should work for justice when the people in the margins are treated unjustly, widows, orphans, immigrants). We also realize how counter cultural Jesus’ commands are. Are they worth it? Can we do it?