by Aaron Bjorklund
“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.” Matthew 5:38-42
This text feels like a complicated justice system. “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” was part of Israel’s justice law, but here, Jesus seems to dismiss it. Doesn’t Jesus want justice? What does justice look like in the Kingdom that Jesus proposes in this sermon?
Eye for eye was a law given in Deuteronomy by God to prevent the overflow of vengeance. See, God wanted to ensure that his people didn’t enact justice that extended beyond the crime. In that era, it was a very gracious law.
When Jesus is speaking these words, Israel is no longer in power. Instead, Rome is the political power. Jesus’ reference to going two miles refers to a law that allowed Roman soldiers to demand that a person assist them with something for up to a mile. In other words, Jesus refers both to the Jewish law code and Roman law code, and then proposes a new law code for his Kingdom. What is the law code that Jesus suggests? In all other human justice systems, the best aim imaginable is that everyone gets equal treatment. Equality isn’t the aim of the justice system of the Kingdom. Love is the new goal. The highest expression of justice might be to sacrifice our rights for the love of another human being.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t pursue justice for marginalized people? Are human systems of justice and equality irrelevant? No, that is also not what Jesus says. Instead, he is talking about a freedom that his people have to extend grace and mercy beyond the bounds of justice into the territory of self-giving love.
You are free to show love, even at your own expense. It is the kind of love that Jesus gave to us when he died on the cross for our sins. It is the kind of love that can’t be overcome by laws, force, or power. If we offer our service even to an unjust person, we retain the power of God’s Kingdom, the potency of self-giving love. I know this love is difficult for us to muster for others, so we should continue to pray for God’s power to be expressed in us through the Lord’s prayer.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
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