Introduction ‘Why did you hit him?’ ‘Because he hit me first’! ‘Why did you call him ‘a fat pig’?’ ‘Because he called me a ‘skinny dog’. Retaliation is something we observe in human experience from childhood. For many it is an automatic response as natural as breathing. But retaliation never improves human relationships, it destroys them. Retaliation is a dangerous response and once embarked upon the brakes are not easily applied. Hurtful remarks can result in a full scale war for neither party backs down; retaliation breeds retaliation. Jesus calls upon his followers to adopt a different response and one that will cause people to sit up and take notice.
Presentation 22 Background But in order to understand Jesus' teaching here, we need to clear some of the cobwebs of misunderstanding that have been spun around it. The Bible does not contradict itself. Jesus does not teach the opposite of Mosaic law. The eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth teaching belongs to judicial legislation provided to guide Israel’s judges in the administration of her national life. It was designed to restrain vengeance and expresses a principle of exact retribution -the punishment was intended to fit the crime. In practice provision was made for the payment of damages. If an employer was negligent of the safety of an employee so that he suffered personal injury, that loss was to be compensated for. If the man was no longer able to work to support his family, the employer had a financial liability.
Presentation 22 Background Some of the teachers of the law had taken this principle from the law courts where it belonged and introduced it into the realm of personal relationships where it did not belong. They used it to pursue personal revenge which was expressly forbidden: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people’ Lev. 19.18. In Jesus' day the principle of retributive justice was being used to excuse the very thing which it was designed to prevent- personal revenge. What Jesus does not allow is personal retaliation because personal relationships are based on love not on justice. Once you insist they are based on justice then the world is full of Shylocks who are demanding their pound of flesh.
Presentation 22 Background Others think that Jesus taught an uncompromising pacifism. Does Jesus not teach we are not to resist an evil person? Are we not prohibited from using force in every situation? Luther describes the crazy saint, ‘Who let the lice nibble at him and refused to kill any of them on account of this text, maintaining that he had to suffer and not resist evil’. Tolstoy thought it wrong for a Christian to be involved in law courts, government and military service. He said the law court not only resisted evil but returned evil for evil. Tolstoy influenced Ghandi whose teaching at times bordered upon anarchy. He wrote, ‘the state represents violence in a concentrated and organised form’. In his perfect state, the police would never use force, punishment would end, prisons would be turned into schools and litigation would be replaced by arbitration.
Presentation 22 Background Such views can be criticised not just because they are unrealistic but because they are unbiblical. The N.T. teaches that the state is a divine institution commissioned to punish the wrongdoer and to reward those who do good cf. Rom.13.1. The fact that the state has been instituted by God does not of course qualify it to abuse its power. Nevertheless the point being made is that the duties and functions of the state are quite different from that of the individual. Jesus is not opposing the administration of justice but forbidding us from taking the law into our own hands. Exactly what Jesus means by not resisting an evil person is now teased out in four s eparate cameos.
Presentation 22 Turning The Other Cheek Retaliation is built into human nature but Jesus says his followers must turn the other cheek. That is something we may have to do quite literally. This standard that Jesus set his followers is one that he met. When struck at his trial he refused to retaliate. Spurgeon says that the Christian is the anvil while evil men are the hammers. Being an anvil is one thing, being a doormat is another. Jesus was no weakling he challenged the high priest when questioned by him during his trial. The principle that Jesus is illustrating here is that love when injured refuses to satisfy itself by taking revenge, it will not return blow for blow, insult for insult.
Presentation 22 Turning The Other Cheek You may be thinking that all this has little place in the real world. We need to remind ourselves that our Christian lives are not the product of human striving but the product of divine grace. As the life of Christ grows up in us it shines out through us. Tom Skinner was the leader of the Harlem Lords one of the toughest teenage gangs in New York. He became a Christian and turned from a life of fighting believing that God was calling him to preach the gospel.
Presentation 22 Turning The Other Cheek Weeks later he was playing American football and was thrown to the ground and kicked by a player who shouted provocative comments. The old Skinner would have sprung from the ground and pulverised the white boy. Instead he got up and told him that because he was a Christian he could love his enemies. He knew that he no longer lived on the old tit for tat level, abuse for abuse, blow for blow. The same player approached him after the game and said, ‘Tom you’ve done more to knock prejudice out of me by telling me that you loved me than you would have if you’d socked me in the jaw.’
Presentation 22 Giving Up One’s Cloak The second picture Jesus uses describes someone being sued for their tunic and he encourages such a person to give up his cloak as well. A Jewish law limited the amount for which a man could be sued. He may have many tunics but only one cloak. The law recognised that this cloak was necessary for a man’s well-being, and although he could be sued for his tunic, he could not be sued for the garment which kept him warm on a cold winters night. Jesus' hearers would have been familiar with this law and would have understood Jesus to be saying that even although protected by the law they were not to live by the rights of their possessions- If you like they were to ‘suffer the spoiling of their goods gladly’.
Presentation 22 Giving Up One’s Cloak What is the thrust of this teaching? Simply this, rather than resentfully contest a lawsuit be prepared to give to your opponent even that to which he had no right under the law and in this way show that you bear no malice towards the person who is seeking to deprive you of your possessions. A group of Christians procured a piece of land and began building. When the work was well under way they were joined by others and in time it became clear that they held different doctrinal beliefs. The differences proved to be irreconcilable.
Presentation 22 Giving Up One’s Cloak The new group further argued that since they had begun to put some of their money into the building project they should be allowed to take it over and they began to take court action. Those who had the prior claim to the building decided rather than go to court they would simply walk away. They did not want God’s name dishonoured by a court battle. Many thought them stupid not to contest the case. But they took God’s word e seriously. God honoured their stand they soon had a better building and a church fellowship that grew in strength.
Presentation 22 The Extra Mile Thirdly, when Jesus spoke of the man travelling the extra mile his hearers would immediately have grasped his meaning. They lived in occupied territory, and were constantly being compelled by the Romans to carry heavy burdens. Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry Jesus' cross. Roman soldiers were permitted to compel a member of the public to carry their heavy shields for a mile and so relieve them of the burden. Jesus wanted his followers to go twice as far and with a willingness and grace thus indicating they held no bitter resentment or smouldering grudge under the surface of their service.
Presentation 22 The Extra Mile Can you imagine how the Roman soldier would have felt when his burden bearer went beyond the appointed mark for another mile. Would he recognise that he was not truly in control and that the burden bearer was under orders of a higher power than his? That can be quite unsettling! Can we apply that? Are we the kind of people who do more than is asked of us and might rightly be expected of us. Jesus point is clear the Christian does the unexpected because grace makes him or her seek to win others by love rather retaliate on the basis of ones rights.
Presentation 22 Giving To The Needy Jesus' final practical example involves us in giving to those in need who want to borrow from us. When someone is in distress and asks for assistance do we turn a deaf ear? Or if we do give in what manner should we do so. Jesus' answer is to give, not grudgingly, or gingerly but generously. We are not to lend in a way which seeks to capitalise on the need and distress of another so that we demand interest to be paid on our loan. Jesus is saying here, ‘Do not resent responding to genuine need’.
Presentation 22 Giving To The Needy The real difficulty in practice is being able to identify genuine need. What do you do if some one staggers up the street and asks for 50p for a cup of tea and you are pretty sure they will spend it on alcohol. The dilemma can sometimes be resolved by offering to go with the person and buying them a cup of tea rather than just giving them some cash which might end up in the publican’s pocket.
Presentation 22 Giving To The Needy Many of us may have come across confidence tricksters who have tried to relieve us of our cash. While they can do a great deal to make us cynical and uncaring but we need to be on our guard lest those in genuine need slip through our fingers. It is impossible to read 1 Jn 3v 17-18 without being challenged: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”.
Presentation 22 Conclusion The thrust of this whole passage is that we will be confronted with circumstances in life which will call out the retaliation or resentment of the natural man. But the Christian disciple is called upon to demonstrate that he is not a puppet who dances to the tune of the natural man indeed he is controlled by another and as a result his behaviour will constantly shatter the predictable pattern of response. He will suffer abuse without retaliation- he commits his cause to God the Judge. He will suffer the spoiling of his goods gladly, his riches are not of this world but secure in heaven.
Presentation 22 Conclusion He will not dig his heals in and appeal to his rights saying he has done enough, he will do more than is asked of him for he seeks to please another who laid aside his rights for him. He will not harden his heart when confronted with genuine need for he is the adopted child of a God who has never failed to exercise compassion. And what will happen as a result of shattering the mould of the world’s expectations? People will see beyond his life to the one who is controlling it and be drawn to him- the living God.