by Kathleen Petersen
“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 evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42 NET
If you or someone you love has been a victim of an oppressor, you may be forming arguments against these words right now. Please take a deep breath.
Since Jesus is our primary example of how to live our everyday lives, one of my spiritual practices is to match Jesus’ teachings with his actions, especially if a teaching is difficult to grasp.
With this passage, my mind jumps immediately to the persecution Jesus suffered during the few days he was on his way to his death on the Cross. However, those days are unique, because they are the source of our salvation and will never be replicated. So the Cross should not be conflated with the persecution Jesus speaks of in today’s passage.
Here are questions that come to mind when contemplating how Jesus practiced “do not resist the evildoer” :
Was Jesus a passive doormat in the face of persecution? Earlier in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus established that, just like him, his followers will be persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:11-12).
Was the kind of persecution Jesus described in today’s passage a feature of his public ministry?
Here’s an example that intrigues me:
Jesus assigned the important role of treasurer to the avaricious Judas Iscariot. The other disciples were deeply troubled when they observed Judas stealing treasury money — especially the portion set aside for the poor (John 12:4-6). There is no record that Jesus ever confronted Judas’ theft. What puzzles me is that “Jesus knew what was in a man’s heart” (John 2:25).
Jesus’ failure to confront Judas is remarkable since there were many incidents where he confronted and challenged sinful attitudes and behaviors of Jewish religious leaders as well as other disciples.
During and after his Last Supper, Jesus made sobering disclosures about Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25, John 13:27-30, and Mark 14:43-50) and Judas’ role in fulfilling prophecy. Judas’ habit of obtaining material advantage had escalated to the level of reckless betrayal of his long-suffering teacher.
This is one example of Jesus not resisting an evildoer. As you think about today’s passage, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal more examples including those in the lives of the apostles and other disciples.
Are you or is someone you love experiencing injury under an oppressor? If God has not yet provided a way of escape from the situation (as described in
I Corinthians 10:13), ask him to reveal his greater purpose for the oppression as well as his strength to endure in the midst of righteous suffering.
Continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer as you meditate on “do not resist the evildoer”.
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