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.
I wrote previously about the above passage in Matthew 5. See here. It was only centuries later that the biblical authors’ writings were assign verses and chapters. This can lead to suggesting a meaning to a writer’s words that was not intended. It is best to read a book and letters in the Bible as a whole. Keep in mind the circumstances of the audience a writer is addressing. Applications for readers living centuries later may be different.
It is a good practice to first attempt to understand a writer’s meaning to the audience they are addressing. When discerning what Jesus’ meant by His words, it is helpful to keep in mind Jesus’ main message. I believe it is fair to suggest Jesus came to convey God’s love for each of us despite our failures, and God’s desire to encourage and support us in living out what we all secretly desire as a legacy – loving others like we want to be loved.
When reading Jesus’ words we might ask why Jesus offered such advice to support His mission. We can begin to think how we might apply Jesus’ words in our own life. Of course you have to decide if the message Jesus came to convey is worth believing and following. Jesus’ words seem always in our best interest if we desire to look back on our life with the fewest regrets.
- Jesus wasn’t necessarily condemning “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” He was simply referring to the Law. Eye for eye can be a good thing. It protected the weak from the powerful who were seeking more than justice (i.e. revenge).
- Was Jesus saying we should always allow an evil person to continue to abuse us by turning the other cheek? That doesn’t seem likely. If Jesus’ words were intended to be applicable to every situation then why did Jesus attempt to defend Himself rather than simply turned the other cheek when slapped by an official (Jn. 18:23)?
- Was Jesus advocating we should always be willing to give all the clothes off our back? It seem more likely Jesus was not suggesting passivity but actually provoking possible ways to avoid continued violence. Restraint can sometimes lead to less violence as responding violently breeds more violence. It is possible Jesus was actually empowering the weak at that time who felt powerless against the unrestrained strong. The response suggested by Jesus can embolden to prove someone’s ridiculous cruelty.
- Did Jesus advise that we should always loan money to anyone who seeks to borrow from you? Doesn’t this contradict other advice in the Bible that says: “Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (Titus 3:10).
Applications are different depending upon one’s circumstances. Wasn’t Jesus simply asking us to consider not always responding in natural ways? There are times that supernatural responses are the best way to change the world for the better. At other times we may seek justice to protect future victims. Don’t live in fear if you are pleasing your Creator. Read the Bible for possible ways to make a difference in this world as Jesus’ life did. Jesus wanted us to know that our Creator loves us and seeks to encourage us in making for a better world.