Sermon on the Mount - Retaliation

(Matthew 5:38-42)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Biblical Teachings, Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Mount (Bible Study)

  • After being filled up by the beatitudes, the disciples are given more “commands.”
  • One command has to do with retaliation. It differs from the others in that it involves personal matters.
  • These pronouns are all singular. Obedience is first and foremost, personal and individual.
  • Jesus starts, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’”
  • In the Old Testament, the law “an eye for an eye” was a tremendous advance. It said that the punishment must fit the crime.
  • It put a stop to feudal killing and taught the administration of justice. It set Israel apart from many of her neighbors by putting an end to excessive retaliation.
  • But Jesus says, “I tell you, do not resist an evil person.”
  • The word “resist” in Greek is comprised of two other words. Literally, they mean, “against and stand.”
  • It typically refers to going to court, standing against someone in court.
  • So “resist not” came to mean, “Don’t hold court. Don’t mete out justice. Don’t get even. Don’t resist.”
  • The way the word “evil” is written could mean evil, the evil one, or the evil person. They all work.
  • What is really interesting about this is that that evil has already been identified. Justice will be meted out, just not by us.

Then, Jesus gives four very interesting examples.

  • The first is: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” 
    • Right handed people will usually hit across the left cheek.
    • This specifically “right cheek.” The intent of this action is to insult. It would be a back-handed slap.
    • Jesus is saying, “Don’t haul this person into court, don’t get even, don’t cower. Confront the attacker bravely with the poise of faith.” It takes a great deal of power to use such restraint.
  • The second is: “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
    • In antiquity, people usually wore only two garments—a tunic and a cloak.
    • Jesus is recognizing that many people owned only two things in the entire world, literally, the clothes on their backs.
    • This is a statement about possessions. We are to be as defenseless about our possessions as we are about our face.
  • The third is: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
    • Laws said that any Roman soldier had the right to compel any subject to carry his baggage for a mile at any time.
    • This was very degrading. The Jews particularly hated it.
    • Jesus is saying, “Give the first mile to Caesar, and the second one to God.”
    • Going the extra mile is going beyond fairness to preserve human relations.
  • The fourth one is: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
    • Now this next one about borrowing makes people particularly nervous. It sounds an awful lot like indiscriminate almsgiving.
    • There is, of course, a big difference between asking and asking. Borrowing money for an afternoon at the racetrack is a lot different from borrowing money for groceries.
    • It is the Spirit that gives the discernment, which enables us to understand what is being asked.
  • The unifying theme among all of these examples is that they have been very one-on-one. The “you” is always singular.
  • We’re not being asked to stand by while others get hurt. This has to do with us, with our own consciousness, our persecutions.
  • And more importantly, they move us right back into the beatitudes and God’s promises.
  • We can’t tolerate any kind of humiliation that might happen to us unless we have already been filled up by God’s blessings.

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