Revenge is a scary thing. Jesus is helping us to be better in our relationships, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the other person will do likewise. We are often hurt by what others say and do or how they treat us. What do we do with those crushed feelings? How do we reconcile with someone who doesn’t even know they hurt us.
We hear in today’s reading that taking the “high road” is the way to go. We need to be the “bigger” person and do the right thing. The example we see here is when someone slaps us on the right cheek, we’re supposed to offer the left, too. As if the first pain wasn’t enough, we need to welcome more. Jesus told us this to support his charge to us to not resist an evil person.
This may all seem a little hard to digest. David mentioned to me when I started the Sermon on the Mount reflections that this sermon was an Old Testament sermon. That is, Jesus is taking what was familiar to the people, writings from the Old Testament, but now reinterpreting them in light of his coming. Jesus fulfilled and completed the work of the Old Testament covenant. So what did the Old Testament say about this whole revenge topic?
Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury.” This law helped the governing bodies know the proper punishment and have a limitation to follow so revenge doesn’t spiral out of control. For instance, if someone knocked out your tooth, you wouldn’t be allowed to go set fire to their house and maim their children in revenge. And so it goes. Jesus was reminding the people of this law and then took it a step farther.
Jesus gives us examples of non-retaliation. For our loss of pride, he gives the slap on a cheek. In that day, that was a very insulting offense. For our loss of possessions, he talks of our coat. In that day, a person probably only had one coat and it would be an essential piece of clothing. Thirdly, and this is a biggie for me, our loss of time. It would take twice as long to walk 2 miles instead of 1 mile. Jesus wanted us to think in non-selfish ways. It will help us from retaliating. And finally, our loss of money. Jesus wants us to be givers and thus growing a heart of generosity. We need to put others’ needs before our own.
When someone has wronged you, how good are you at avoiding retaliation or revenge? We need to be careful and not take these words of Jesus too literally and become legalistic. Jesus is not teaching new laws here, just new attitudes. Jesus doesn’t want us to be doormats, but at the same time, he wants our hearts to be open and loving.
Certainly, common sense would tell us that some evil people should be exposed. To repay evil for evil would not do away with evil but perpetuate it. We as Christians may be called in our work or in our lives to restrain evil for the protection of others. I don’t think Jesus meant for us to willfully put ourselves in harm’s way. Again, it’s the attitude.
We can hate the offense but love the offender. Does that make sense? Perhaps you can relate to this example. As a child, you would make your parents mad for something you had done. But they still loved you. They didn’t like what you had done, the offense, but they loved you, the offender.
Look at your heart. What are your motives? Are they pure? Do they help and not hurt someone? Let Jesus’ words empower you to do good, be generous and never motivated by revenge or malice. We may suffer a bit at the hand of evil, but we will be loved through it all and never alone.
Let’s pray. Lord, forgive me when I fall short of your perfect will for me. Forgive me when my heart may not be as pure as it should be and I begin to think of ways to get even when wronged. Help me to push those thoughts aside and replace them with thoughts of reconciliation and love. May I face evil with a loving and generous heart. Use me and my gratitude to help others receive your love and mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.