Matthew 5:38-42 — What if Jesus Had Said, “Enough of This Crucifixion Thing!” And Gone All Rambo On Everyone

Posted: October 7, 2015 in 40-Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 5:38-42
Eye for An Eye

The first thing, in our humanness, that we think of when we read this passage is a 1960s commune where everyone is sitting by the campfire and singing “Cum Bah Yah” with flowers in our hair, big fat bell bottoms, and transcendental meditation. The funny thing is though is that none of the 1960s communal living camps are around today. Why? Because of human nature! We like to think that we can be good enough. We like to think that we can live without competition and with the common good in mind. However, the basic Christian principle of our sin nature always played out in these experimental living arrangements of the counterculture of the 1960s. Man is competitive. Man will look out for himself, particularly when no one is looking. We will seek our own aims and desires to the detriment of others. We will take offense when someone is seeking their own desires and in so doing tramples on our desires. It is the nature of man. We are sin-filled creatures living in a fallen world. That’s why those social experiments of utopian societies always crashed and burned. With the best of intentions man can be good for a while but we cannot sustain it. People hurt people. We trample on each other’s rights and are surprised when others take offense. We want revenge when other people do. It dates back to the Genesis, to Cain and Abel. We want revenge. We want to knock someone else down for having knocked us down.The second thing I think of is what if Jesus had been selfish and taken Himself down from the cross (which He could have done – He is God after all) and decided to start kicking butt and takin’ names. The first thing is an experiment that failed because these experiments failed to take into account the sin nature of man. The second thing is Jesus coming down from the cross and kickin butt is the expectation that did not come true because Jesus did not have a sin nature. Jesus talks about utopia and vengeance here in a way that is unexpected. Jesus is calling us to a higher plane here. He is not calling for the end of letting the punishment fit the crime. He is calling for us to love one another in ways that are uncommon even in the best of the 1960s bygone era of utopian social experiments. And it is only through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can.

As we continue looking at the model Christian life through Jesus’ comments during the Sermon on the Mount, we now move to another base human emotion. Call it what you will – anger, jealousy, vengeance. Jesus speaks about the human needs to “get even” with those who have persecuted us in some way, real or perceived, when he says, in Matthew 5:38-42, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 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. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Many people might think that Jesus turning his nose up at Mosaic law, but remember, Jesus said earlier in this Sermon on the Mount that he did not come to abolish the Mosaic law but rather to fulfill it. In this light, what we must take from Jesus’ statement is that, just as he stated with his comments on murder, adultery, and integrity, he is saying, “why let things get to the point that we must have the equal justice of an ‘eye for an eye’ boundary set out in Mosaic law”? So, the timeless truth that comes from this passage of Scripture is “Love has no pride”.

Many people think this passage of Scripture is espousing pacifism and simply accepting the status quo but that is not what Jesus is saying at all. Jesus wants to fight injustice and to right the wrongs of the world but in contradiction to the world view, he want us to do it through love. He wants us to love those who pour out injustice just as he would. Just as Martin Luther King brought change without violence or retribution, Just as Gandhi freed India from British rule without firing a shot, all permanent change in this world comes only from loving our enemies into seeing the way of Jesus Christ. Have you seen throughout history of one man or group of men or nations imposing its will on others through force and confrontational politics only leads to further confrontation (even if it’s hundreds of years later). Just look at the Middle East right now. Most of the troubles that we see now and the long-standing hatred that many nations have there for Western nations is because of our imperial arrogance. In the 1800’s and the first half the 20th century, we gave little thought to the impact of our expansionist mentality on the people groups of the Middle East. We saw them as inferior people to be toyed with. Our word meant nothing. Imposing our will on others only leads to unforeseen negative consequences later. The same is true in interpersonal relationships.

When we simply look out for number one, we create paths of destruction. When trample on the rights of others without a second thought, we create the desire for vengeance. Jesus is calling us to care about how our actions affect others. When we do that, we have a greater tendency not to trample afoot the rights of others that would cause them to seek vengeance against us. When we have uncaring attitudes about others, we will commit crimes against one another that require court decisions, that require third parties to decide who is right and who is wrong, that require that the punishment fit the crime, that require an eye for an eye, that require a tooth for a tooth.

If we love others, without letting our selfish needs get in the way, permanent change can result. So, Jesus points out to us that loving others is more than the letter of the law. He is saying God’s law is His own. Vengeance belongs to Him. We are to love with no expectation of return. We are to love without expecting to get our needs met. Otherwise, we are no different from a selfish non-believer. We should love with no pride. To change the world, we must work at it one person at a time. You and I impact the world through diverging from self-satisfaction and getting our own retribution. We turn our retribution over to God.

In the face of expected retribution, how different from the world can we be or better yet how different the world would be if we stick a flower in the end of the barrel of the gun pointed at us. 1960’s utopia at its best! How different the world would be if we were slapped in the face, we turn around and tell that person, I love you. How different the world would be if we were ordered to carry a ruling soldier’s provisions for a mile down the round, then, we at one mile, offer to carry his goods for another mile. We have the example of this kind going the extra mile kind of love in Jesus Christ. Jesus did the same for us by so sacrificially loving us that he gave his life in excruciating pain on the cross. He could have removed Himself from the cross. He was put there under false pretenses. He could have, as God in the flesh, taken himself down from the cross and gone all super-hero Rambo on everybody’s ass. He could have sought vengeance. He could have zapped everyone right where they stood! But Jesus did not want anything to do with getting revenge. He had His Father’s goal in mind. He wanted the big picture! He wanted people to have a way to reconcile themselves to the Father through His sacrifice. He loved with restoration in mind. He loved with salvation in mind. He loved not for the moment. He loved us with our eternity in mind. The temporary offense to Him personally on the cross, painful as it was, was far less important that people finding their way to God. He gave his vengeance over to his Heavenly Father in humble submission and kept loving even while hanging on the cross, a love with no pride.

If we love like Jesus loved, then, the boundaries set by the Mosaic Law will never be approached. We may get offended and hurt in this life but if we live with reconciliation in mind then there is no need to get to the point of the punishment fitting the crime. We will resolve issues with those that have hurt us. We will resolve issues with those that we have hurt. When we love with a person’s eternity in mind, it changes our perspective. When we love with reconciliation always in mind, we approach life from the point of what is best for each of us in this situation rather than simply what is best for me. When we live our lives to point people to Jesus Christ by how we treat them then that, too, changes our perspective. Love with no pride. Love with no agenda. Love with no scorecard. Love with eternity in mind. Sounds like a 1960’s utopian social experiment doesn’t it? It is only through the grace of Jesus Christ and the model of His life that He gave us that we can become such creatures. On our own efforts, we will crash and burn, but through Christ we can do all things – even overcoming selfish desires, pride, and the need for vengeance.

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