Turning the Other Cheek
When someone hurts you, what’s your first instinct? Hurt them back! When someone wrongs you, what is your first reaction? Wrong them back! When someone embarrasses you, what do you want? You want to embarrass them too. Our natural, instinctual reaction when someone hurts us is often retaliation and revenge!
But no matter how we may feel, or what we may want to do, Jesus teaches us to not go there! He essentially teaches, when someone wrongs you, forget about getting even; forget about keeping score; forget about vengeance, retaliation and conflict. Forget what you may want to do and instead do what I want you to do; offer grace, exhibit mercy, pursue peace… and that is not easy!
With His teaching in Matthew 5:38-42, as well as the section we’ll cover next week, Jesus comes to what many believe is the high point in His Sermon on the Mount. There is arguably nothing more compelling, more challenging and more counter-cultural than what Jesus calls us to as His followers in these passages.
Maybe you’ve been treated unfairly, unjustly or wrongly by a former spouse, a friend, a family member, a boss or fellow employee and you would really like to get that person back or make them pay. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have been treated wrongly by someone at some point in our lives; and in some cases, in very significant ways. Our natural reaction may be to get them back; to let them have it; to make them pay. But Jesus doesn’t teach that; in fact, He teaches us “to turn the other cheek.” And that is really hard to do!
In case you haven’t read it lately, here is exactly what Jesus said…
38 “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
In this text, Jesus is teaching straight from the law of Moses that was intended to be used by the judges of Israel. (Exodus 21:22-25.) It is what scholars call lex talionis, or the principle of exact retribution. The purpose of these instructions was to lay the foundation of justice, specifying the punishment that a wrongdoer deserved. And, at the same time, it was to also limit the compensation of a victim to an exact equivalent, and no more. The principle of exact retribution had a double effect of defining justice and restraining revenge.
These legal principles were designed for civil law, not personal relationships. However, it seems clear, based on Jesus’ teaching, that the religious leaders (Scribes and Pharisees) were applying the principle of exact retribution to personal relationships, where it was never intended, Biblically speaking.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were trying to use the principle of exact retribution to justify personal revenge. This, despite the fact that the God’s law clearly prohibits that. (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus makes clear, our personal relationships are to be based on love, not justice.
Jesus goes on to offer four powerful illustrations to help us understand how to apply this counter-cultural practice, including turning the other cheek and going the extra mile! If you have ever found yourself reeling from unjust or unfair treatment and felt like lashing out, (and who hasn’t), this is a life-changing lesson for you! For much more, including how to offer grace, extend mercy and pursue peace, click here to listen to: Sermon on the Mount - Part 5 - Turning the Other Cheek.