The Law Of Retribution
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matthew 5:38-42, NKJV)
The Law Of Retribution
The Mosaic law did teach an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24). But over time religious teachers moved this command out of its proper sphere (a principle limiting retribution for the civil government) and put it in the wrong sphere (as an obligation in personal relationships).
Jesus presents the fullness of the eye for an eye law, and how its idea of limiting revenge extends into the principle of accepting certain evils against one’s self.
When a person insults us (slaps you on the right cheek), we want to give them back what they gave to us, plus more. Jesus said we should patiently bear such insults and offenses, and not resist an evil person who insults us this way. Instead, we trust God to defend us.
It is wrong to think Jesus means evil should never be resisted. Jesus demonstrated with His life that evil should and must be resisted, such as when He turned tables in the temple.
“Jesus is here saying that the true Christian has learned to resent no insult and to seek retaliation for no slight.” – William Barclay
When we think how Jesus Himself as insulted and spoken against (as a glutton, a drunk, an illegitimate child, a blasphemer, a madman, and so forth) we see how He lived this principle Himself.
iii. It is wrong to think that Jesus means a physical attack cannot be resisted or defended against. When Jesus speaks of a slap on your right cheek, it was culturally understood as a deep insult, not a physical attack. Jesus does not mean that if someone hits across the right side of our head with a baseball bat, we should allow them to then hit the left side. “If a right-handed person strikes someone’s right cheek, presumably it is a slap
“If a right-handed person strikes someone’s right cheek, presumably it is a slap by the back of the hand, probably considered more insulting than a slap by the open palm.” – D.A. Carson
It is also wrong to think Jesus means that there is no place for punishment or retribution in society. Jesus here speaks to personal relationships, and not to the proper functions of government in restraining evil (Romans 13:1-4). I must turn my cheek when I am personally insulted, but the government has a responsibility to restrain the evil man from physical assault.
“Jesus’ disciples, if sued for their tunics (an inner garment like our suit but worn next to the skin), far from seeking satisfaction, will gladly part with what they may legally keep.” – D.A. Carson
Positively, we are told to take command of evil impositions by making a deliberate choice to give more than we are required. At that time, Judea was under Roman military occupation. Under military law, any Roman soldier might command a Jew to carry his soldier’s pack for one mile, but only one mile. Jesus here says, “Go beyond the one mile required by law and give another mile out of a free choice of love.” This is how we transform an attempt to manipulate us into a free act of love.
“The old said, Insist on your own right, and loving your neighbor, hate your enemy, and so secure your safety. The new says, Suffer wrong, and lavish your love on all.” – G. Campbell Morgan
The only limit to this kind of sacrifice is the limit that love itself will impose. It is not loving to give in to someone’s manipulation without our transforming it into a free act of love. It isn’t always loving to give or to not resist.
We might say that Paul repeated this idea of Jesus: Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Father God, we are so concerned with our “rights.” We seek to be concerned with Your ways. Grant us the strength to overcome the desires of our flesh and walk in victory with You. In Jesus name, amen.