Love Fulfills The Law
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 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.
When we are offended by someone, our first human inclination is to retaliate. the Israelites were permitted by law to do unto others as had been done unto them:
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.
16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
These rules were designed to help the Israelites think before they acted. If they had intentionally inflicted harm upon someone, the same harm would be inflicted upon them. But rather than deter them from doing harm to their neighbor, it was used to exact vengeance upon wrongdoers. Once the Roman occupation of Israel took place, they faced an interesting quandary: how would they apply the law to an occupying force that was oppressing them?
Jesus was trying to address the attitudes of their hearts. He told them not to resist an evil person – and the Romans were indeed acting evilly towards them. With regards to turning one’s cheek, it needs to be placed in context:
This specifically refers to a hand striking the side of a person’s face, tells quite a different story when placed in it’s proper historical context. In Jesus’s time, striking someone of a lower class ( a servant) with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance. If the persecuted person “turned the other cheek,” the discipliner was faced with a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed. Another alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect putting an end to the behavior or if the slapping continued the person would lawfully be deemed equal and have to be released as a servant/slave. (Source)
In the case of being slapped, the person slapping was giving a great insult to the one being slapped. This was often seen in that time by the Roman soldiers who felt above the ones they had oppressed. But when a person turned the other cheek, if they were slapped again, they would be seen as an equal. The Roman soldier would never want that to occur, and the abuse would stop. Jesus was showing submission as a way to show the attacker that they were not in control of them. It was meekness in action – strength under control. It also showed love, in that they did not retaliate – even in their heart.
In the case of being sued, the person suing is trying to cause the other person financial hardship. Jesus was showing that true righteousness – love – overcomes all. The cloak was one of the most valuable possessions that people had at that time. It kept them warm at night, and was supposed to be returned by sunset if it was used in pledge (on deposit for some transaction). Jesus was showing that if a person was trying to wrongfully take from you what God had provided to you, rather than give it over reluctantly, hand it over to them as well as your cloak, that it would show compassion towards that person. Now instead of them oppressing you, you have shown them generosity of a nature that was unheard of.
In the case of traveling one mile with someone, Jesus was referring to Roman law that allowed the conscription of subjugated people to be required to carry their equipment for them one Roman mile (Source). Jesus, in His characteristic approach to things, indicated that the person forced to act as a porter for the Roman soldier should do it for two miles. This indicated that there was a love and concern for the other person, rather than a dutiful action that could result in bitterness. Each of these illustrations was designed to both address issues that were unbearable at that time to the Jews in order to show them where their hearts were, and where they needed to be.
After all, the best way to destroy your enemies is to turn them into your friends.
Lastly, the Jews would not lend to people that they didn’t think could repay them. On the surface, that is just “good business”. But God had instructed them before to be generous, as He was generous to them. God also promised to bless them and the work of their hands and all they did if they gave freely:
7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
In each case, Jesus was dealing with an attitude of the heart. The occupation by Roman soldiers was indeed oppressive to the Jews, but they forgot that God loved them even though they acted as enemies towards Him. Evil people often try to exert themselves over us, and deprive us of what we have, whether it is out of hate, spite, greed, perceived need, or whatever is driving them. And the poor will always be among us. Let us remember that God lifted us out of the mire and muck, and cleaned us off with the perfect, sinless blood of Jesus. The next time someone throws evil your way, respond in the character of God – Love them as God loves you.
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: Am I responding to evil with love the same way that God responded to me when I was acting evilly towards Him?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, You have shown me great love in that You revealed Your Son to me. You have picked me up, cleaned me off, and given me access to You. Your love, mercy, and grace abound. Father, help me to respond to people who treat me wrongly. Give me the strength and ability to show Your love to them so that all would see Your character and glorify Your name. Remember me when I feel slighted, and help me to honor You by acting in love. Help me to not be a doormat for evil people’s feet, but rather to respond in love to their insults, injuries, and actions. Guard my heart against all bitterness as I endure the increase in lawlessness that grows every day. Help me to keep my eyes upon You that Your glory would drown out the tyranny that I face. This I ask in the precious name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.