There is something in all of us, I think, that screams for fairness. And if something happens that we feel isn’t fair, we scream against it. But is that the best response?
These few verses go against every instinct we have.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 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. (38-39)
Verse 38 comes from the Mosaic law, and it was basically instructions to judges on how people were to be punished for wrongdoing. The point here is not revenge, but telling the judges to match the punishment with the crime, and not go beyond. If someone cost another an eye or a tooth, for example, you were not to kill the offender for that action.
It should be pointed out, however, that this was never literally carried out. You didn’t actually take out another person’s eye or tooth if they cost you yours. Instead, there was usually some compensation that was paid.
The idea was justice, or put another way, fairness.
But Jesus here says, “Don’t be so concerned about fairness. Instead, be a light, even to those who abuse you.”
The first example he gives is a very interesting one. He says, “If someone strike you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek.”
Now, I’m a lefty (and proud of it). So it would be no problem for me to nail someone on their right cheek. But for most people, they are right-handed. And the only way for them to lay any kind of forcible blow on the right cheek of another is to slap them with the back of their hand.
In other words, Jesus isn’t talking about someone bullying you; he’s talking about someone insulting you. In Jewish culture, it was considered a graver insult to slap someone with the back of your hand, than with the palm of your hand.
So Jesus was saying, “If someone insults you, let them. Don’t feel like you have to insult them back.”
Is it fair to just take this abuse? No. But Jesus tells us, “Don’t worry about fairness. Show grace.”
He then says if someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give them your cloak as well. In Israel, everyone had many changes of shirts, but generally only had one cloak. Most people slept in their cloak to keep them warm at night, and Moses’ law said that if you took that cloak as a pledge for a loan, you should give it back to that person before he goes to bed at night (Deuteronomy 24:12-13).
But again, Jesus says that if someone sues you to take your shirt, don’t worry about fairness. Give them your cloak as well.
Romans could force any Jew to carry a burden one mile because the Jews were under their rule. The Jews balked at that, as would we if we were forced to do something we don’t want to. But Jesus said, if that happens, don’t just go the one mile, go one extra. Do more than you’re forced to.
And finally, Jesus says to lend freely to those around you, not worrying about whether they will return what they borrowed from you.
You might ask, “Are you saying that I should just let people walk all over me?”
No. But if we are only worried about “fairness,” we’re fighting a losing battle because we live in an unfair world. Life isn’t always fair. We can’t always control that. What can we control?
Our attitude. How we react when life, when people are unfair. We can scream. We can fight.
Or we can show grace. We can show mercy. And if you think about it, that’s what Jesus did for us.
It wasn’t fair that he went to the cross. He never did anything wrong. But he showed grace and mercy to us, and because of it, we can know forgiveness and eternal life. And if Jesus did that for us, shouldn’t we do that for others?