Lent Devotional: Matthew 5:38-42
by Jonathan Haefs
“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. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
His arm was bruised and hung limp at his side as tears rolled down his face. I asked him to stop, but he was stubborn and wouldn’t let up. He made a fist and struck my arm again as hard as he could… which wasn’t very hard at all.
I immediately returned the lick with ever-escalating force, deepening the purple color of his right bicep and making the tears flow faster.
I don’t remember how this particular fight started, but it had ended with my younger brother and I exchanging free blows to each other’s upper arm… first one to give up lost. What began as gentle taps had increased in force until his arm would be rendered useless for the next few days. This would be the last time we ever hit each other.
I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in the midst of a sibling battle like this one, but all of us know how exchanging blows escalates (physically or otherwise). All of us want the last and best hit… we have deep sinful urge for vengeance.
This is why God had instituted the eye for an eye principle in the Old Testament law. It was meant to mitigate personal revenge by having the governing authorities apply a punishment that fit the crime. An eye for an eye was meant to keep things from escalating from an eye to an arm… to a leg… to a life.
However, instead preventing personal revenge, this principle was twisted to justify it! If you take my eye, I’ll take yours (and maybe more).
Such attitudes and actions do not characterize the community of God’s people, for they do not need to seek personal vengeance, but leave it to the Lord who will make all things right (click here for more detail in a previous devotion concerning this theme).
When we a struck with an insulting blow, we don’t have to seek our own vengeance… and raise violence to the next level (*Side note: This is not a prohibition against self-defense. What is in view here is an insulting slap, not a life-threatening attack. Jesus is specifically discussing matters in which people normally sought personal vengeance). We can forgive, knowing God will make things right.
In fact, when it comes to how God’s people personally react when wronged… it looks a lot like how Christ reacted to his abusers and accusers on the way to the cross… it looks cruciform.
God’s people turn the other cheek, give freely to those who would take, serve those who would force, are generous with those who cannot repay them.
Christ turned the other cheek to those who struck him, freely gave his life for those who would take it, served those who would force him to his death, and generously paid the debt of sinners who could never pay him back.
We are called to be a cruciform community.