“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Matthew 5:38-40
“Just you wait! You’ll get yours!” Have you ever said these words? They are human nature, and so is the desire to take revenge. Jesus recognizes this human tendency and confronts it with stating the opposite. But how are we NOT supposed to take revenge? How can we not even WANT to take revenge? It seems impossible. The qualities, characteristics, attitudes and behaviors Jesus has talked about so far in the Sermon on the Mount seem unattainable.
That’s the point. The Pharisees thought they had achieved righteousness by keeping the rules but Jesus says “No, you haven’t even come close. I am on earth now, telling you about God’s love and forgiveness. If you don’t take the time to spend with me, listen to my words and let me love you, you will not be able to love like I love”. The point is you can’t love your enemies on your own without the heart of Jesus. His words are radical in our society where “personal rights”, retaliation and getting back seem to be the norm. He came to fulfill the Law of Moses which prevented people from taking the law into their own hands and seeking private revenge. “An eye for an eye” was meant to keep judges from issuing inappropriate sentences that did not fit the offense. We have to separate judicial responsibility from the personal responsibility to forgive. How do you react when you are wronged?
Jesus’ examples of personal offenses are not about weaklings but people who are so strong of character and self-controlled as to reject any retaliation on their part. It is a spirit-filled, selfless love that considers non-retaliatory actions towards others and society. John Stott in A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount says “The real test of love does not come in how we relate to the kind and lovable but in how we relate to the cruel and despicable.” Don’t let the desire to get even dominate your life but the principles of giving and forgiving. It seems like what Jesus is asking is impossible, but it is not unattainable, because of the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We can do exactly what Jesus says with his heart, not our own. To return good for evil IS supernatural.
Today, linger longer in Jesus’ presence and in the days to come. Let him love you so you will be able to love others. Pray your actions will increasingly reflect your heart’s relationship with Jesus.
By Donna Burns