Matthew 5:38-42 (NRSV)
“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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
Thoughts on Scripture
Rob Bell suggests that even the old version – the “you’ve heard it was said” – is a step forward from where people were when it was spoken. Because that rule kept things even. An eye for an eye doesn’t sound like a great policy, but it put a halt to what people’s temptation was – which would go something like, if someone hurts your eye, you hurt his eye and his other eye and his nose and maybe punch him in the stomach, too, just for good measure. Revenge always escalates, Bell writes. So this old law attempted to counter that impulse.
When Jesus speaks, it’s to a people who are accustomed to that law and have begun to use it to justify their behavior. “What?” they say. “She hurt me, so I hurt her back. An eye for an eye.” As Bell explains, “The same verse that was intended to create a fair and just legal system, lessening violence and revenge, was by Jesus’ day being used to justify violence and revenge.” So Jesus offers a new way here, calling his listeners to more kindness, to subverting expectations of revenge and escalation so that a non-violent justice might be forged, and love might have a chance to win the day.
Questions to Discuss
– Has anyone ever surprised you with kindness, when you expected them to be mean, or grumpy, or angry? What was that like?
– Have you ever given anyone more than what they asked from you, or more than what they expected? What motivated you to do that? What was their response?
– If you could write three rules for how to respond when someone is cruel or unfair to you – and they would be rules to make things better – what would you write? Would you have a hard time following them?
In the (very literal) spirit of the text, go for a family walk. A long one. Maybe twice as long as your usual walk. Notice all of the extras you encounter (people, scenes, sounds) by lengthening your typical journey. Give thanks for the extended time together, and for all the newness you meet.
Sometimes we surprise each other.
Sometimes we surprise ourselves.
Sometimes you surprise us,
By inviting us to more than we expected.
Thank you for always calling us forward,
to more love, more kindness, more justice.
Thank you for your love that never lets us go.