“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 one who is evil. Matthew 5:38-39a.
An eye for an eye. You may well know that the point of this Mosaic law was to limit vengeance not encourage it. Conflict so easily escalates. When a wronged person brought their case before the judge, then the law would provide equity so that the conflict could be ‘put to bed’. No cry of ‘injustice’ could remain. The problem with the law, is not the law, but the hardness of our hearts. Jesus, earlier in this passage has talked about divorce. Divorce, Jesus says in Mt 19:18, had been permitted by Moses because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. Jesus is saying that marriage was meant for a lifetime, but accepting the hardness of our hearts, Moses permitted divorce. In the same way, an ‘eye for an eye’ restrained the hardness of the people’s hearts. It limited the vengeance that can escalate when we are wronged. ‘I will make them pay!’ is something that rises up in our hearts. Or more subtly perhaps ’That’s just not right that they did this to me!’. So we angrily seek self-justice. The problem is the hardness of our hearts that focuses on our loss, our rights being violated, our boundaries being ignored.
The strange thing is that Jesus did not seem to be advocating limits or boundaries. Surely if someone demands your tunic, you don’t need to let them have your cloak as well ( see Matthew 5:40 )! The point here is that if a person’s cloak is used as a pledge for a loan, then it must be returned at night times so that they can sleep in it – it’s a basic ‘right’ to be able to have a cloak ( see Exodus 22:6 ). To give it up as well as the tunic would bring a gasp from his audience. ‘But that’s our right to keep that cloak!’.
This may seem to be crazy, and ignoring what is our due. It may seem to take away from our dignity. We might become indignant! But Jesus is exposing the heart. We need to have these ‘boundary rights’, because of the hardness of our hearts. Jesus is pointing towards the transformation that is worked in us by the new covenant action of the Holy Spirit within us. He gives us a soft heart instead of hard hearts. When you have a soft heart, full of love, there is no need for external laws to direct your attitudes. Love knows what to do.
He calls us to allow the Spirit to reveal God’s Father heart through us
The climax of this passage is …’so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust’ (see Matthew 5:45). He calls us to allow the Spirit to reveal God’s Father heart through us. A heart that, when it is compelled by force to carry the luggage of a Roman soldier for a mile, is so overflowing with love for the soldier, that, instead of remaining in the offence of being compelled, delights to keep giving generously for another two miles! Father keeps on giving, whether people appreciate it or not. In the hope that that love melts their hearts. Not so that they will not cause God, or us, any more pain, but because it would be so good for them. Love focuses on the other, not my ‘loss’. A heart settled in sonship, realises it cannot truly lose anyway. Because all things belong to our Father. He is our source and you cannot rob from an inexhaustible source, especially one who will freely give you all things ( see Rom 8:32 ).
A heart settled in sonship, realises it cannot truly lose anyway… He is our source and you cannot rob from an inexhaustible source
Some may say, ‘But this will just make us push overs! What about when people are just abusing us’. Something strong may rise up within us. Just sit with that feeling for a minute. That self-strength is what we are invited to let go of. Let us allow the Spirit to move through us to gently reveal any offence in our hearts. Let’s humble ourselves and empty ourselves. No doubt, we are to protect others, but even that must be done without picking up the offence of another. But in regard to ourselves… well, I’ll leave you with Jesus words ‘Do not resist the evil person’. Not because what they are doing is not wrong, but because He calls us to live from a different heart. The evil person is trying to meet their own needs through power. We have the privilege of dying to that self-power and knowing the Spirit’s overflow of love in our hearts that knows no boundaries. We can rest from looking after ourselves. We don’t have to establish our own boundaries. He’s done that for you already and it cannot be taken away from you – you are a daughter or a son. That frees us to love the one who hates us, because we have more than enough love for us flowing in the fountain of His love. Do not let the enemy or your heart condemn you if you are gripped with a sense of failure! Just humble and empty yourself. In and of ourselves we have nothing, not enough love for anything. If you humble yourself, empty yourself of self-strength and drink of His love for you, deeply, today, in this moment, the sense of abundance will fill you, and you will become peculiar (in the world’s eyes!) in your responses to people. Oh you are loved! You don’t need a law to tell you what that love will do through you. You don’t need a pre-calculated limit of how much you should take before you walk away. This love will surprise you with it’s creative, loving, spontaneous, kind, compassionate, self-disinterested and full of wisdom responses.
No doubt these thoughts can be used, abused and taken out of context. This short writing does not give us simplistic answers to deeply painful situations. Many of us are needing to know how much He loves us so that we are not dependent on others, others that my not be out for our best interests, to get our love needs met, or to give us worth. But it does show us the words and the heart of Jesus which lifts us to another level of being loved and loving. We cannot get away from His words… ‘Don’t resist’. Overflow! And in the process we become like Him. Glory!
in His grip, Paul.