(Part one of a series on Matthew 5:38-48)
Evil people woke up this morning and looked at the sun and thought, “Another day for me.” That’s not fair. Not at all.
If we had our way, evil people would wake up and….well…if we were honest, we kind of wish evil people simply wouldn’t wake up.
Right? We wish that genuinely bad people would disappear. Then life would be perfect. Instead, they get air. And sunshine. And their lawns get just as much rain as the good people. Which is annoying to us because they probably somewhere hold the mortgage on the lawn of the good people.
We cry out to God and we say, “It’s not fair.”
The law, the “you have heard it said”, said that in certain physical crimes punishment could and should be limited to the extent of the injury. So an eye for an eye, not more. A tooth for a tooth. It feels extreme to us, but it was actually culturally gracious. When “A hand for a theft” is a standard, the eye for an eye was measured.
But then Jesus.
Jesus redefines the standard to respond with graciousness, not technicality. With unwarranted respect, not retribution.
Imagine, Jesus says, that you are standing in line in the market, and have been. There isn’t much fresh lamb. And someone comes up and shoves you out of line. Do you
- Call the Roman soldier and file a complaint
- Create a scene
- Offer the person your shopping bag, too.
Imagine that a Roman soldier comes up alongside you as you are walking home after work. “Carry my backpack,” he says, and tosses it to you. It almost knocks you down, it’s so heavy. But the laws of occupation say that he can do this. For a mile.
- Carry it for a mile, swearing at the soldier. At the milepost, you drop it and walk away.
- Carry it for a mile and make the best of it, asking the soldier about his family. And then at the milepost you stop, wish him well, and hand him the pack.
- Carry it for a mile and just keep walking. And then tell him about the way Jesus told you to do this.
Imagine, Jesus says, that when you say something in a gathering someone slaps you with the back of their hand. It’s less about pain, more about shame.
- Slap back.
- Shout for the authorities
- Stand in place, refusing to be shamed.
- Let the temple guards spit on you and hit you and mock you.
The point that Jesus isn’t making is that there is no place for an army of defense. This is originally addressed to people not nations. BUT it IS addressed to people.
Stop talking about rights, Jesus says. Talk about relationship.
I understand that what Jesus is saying is completely counter- cultural. We have rights and we have to defend them. We have honor and we have to uphold it. This isn’t fair. But the kingdom of heaven is built in grace, not fairness. And Jesus is saying this counter-cultural thing. Stop trying to win.