38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38–42 ESV
- “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “Revenge and retaliation always perpetuate the cycle of anger, fear and violence.” Coretta Scott King
- “Without forgiveness life is governed by… an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” Roberto Assagioli
- “I don’t get mad, I get even.” Patricia Briggs.
Jesus’ statements in today’s text are not only controversial, they are also misunderstood. Responses may range from total passivism in life to total rejection of biblical truth. “There are few commands in the Bible that clash more with our natural inclination to protect our person and our honor than the commands found in Matthew 5:38-42,” explains commentator Daniel M. Doriani.
How should this text be understood and applied? Let us break the text down sentence by sentence. By studying the particulars, we can arrive at an understanding of the whole.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” The Mosaic Law did establish a principle of a governmental, but limited, retribution for committed crimes (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 9:21). God designed the punishment to fit the crime.
“The Old Testament did not permit personal vengeance; David, a great warrior, recognized this principle (1 Sam 25:33; 26:10–11),” explains commentator Craig Keener. Therefore, the law was not a validation for personal retaliation. Therefore, Jesus was not altering the law, but rather explained and affirmed its true meaning.
“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” What did this statement mean in Jesus’ day? Turn the other cheek.
“The blow on the right cheek was the most grievous insult possible in the ancient world (apart from inflicting serious physical harm), and in many cultures was listed alongside the “eye for an eye” laws; both Jewish and Roman law permitted prosecution for this offense. A prophet might endure such ill treatment (1 Kings 22:24; Isaiah 50:6),” states Keener.
“And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” What did Jesus mean? Go the extra mile.
“The poorest people of the Empire (e.g., most peasants in Egypt) had only an inner and outer garment, and the theft of a cloak would lead to legal recourse. Although conditions in first-century Palestine were not quite that bad, this verse could indicate divestiture of all one’s possessions, even (hyperbolically) one’s clothes, to avoid a legal dispute affecting only oneself. Jesus gives this advice in spite of the fact that, under Jewish law, a legal case to regain one’s cloak would have been foolproof: a creditor could not take a poor person’s outer cloak, which might serve as one’s only blanket at night as well as a coat (Ex 22:26–27),” Keener explains.
“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Give to the one who asks.
“Beggars were widespread. The Bible stressed giving to those in need (Deut. 15:11; Ps. 112:5, 9; Prov. 21:13). God would take care of the needs of those who helped the poor (Deut. 15:10; Prov. 19:17; 22:9; 28:8). Biblical laws against usury and especially about lending to the poor before the year of release (Deut. 15:9; every seventh year debts were to be forgiven; cf. Lev. 25) support Jesus’ principle here, but Jesus goes even farther in emphasizing unselfish giving (especially Luke 6:35),” concludes Keener.
“Jesus pointed out, however, that while the rights of the innocent were protected by the Law, the righteous need not necessarily claim their rights. A righteous man would be characterized by humility and selflessness. Instead he might go “the extra mile” to maintain peace. When wronged by being struck on a cheek, or sued for his tunic (undergarment; a cloak was the outer garment), or forced to travel with someone a mile, he would not strike back, demand repayment, or refuse to comply. Instead of retaliating he would do the opposite, and would also commit his case to the Lord who will one day set all things in order (cf. Rom. 12:17–21). This was seen to its greatest extent in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself, as Peter explained (1 Peter 2:23),” states commentator Dr. John Walvoord.
The values of the Lord become the values of His disciples. The values of the King become the values of the kingdom. May we choose to live in light of these values.
Soli deo Gloria!