Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48

Someone sent a little inspirational writing to me called “Inner Peace “. My friend wrote, “I’m passing this along to you as I consider you a valued friend. This worked for me and I think it may work for you. I have found Inner Peace. “
 
Recently I read an article that stated, "The best way to achieve inner peace is to Finish Things You Have Started." So today, I finished two large bags of potato chips, the last half of a lemon cream pie, a nearly full bottle of Jose Cuervo, a small box of Godiva Chocolates, and I slapped the living crap out of someone I have never liked. I feel better than I have felt for a long time. Please pass this along to a friend who is in need of Inner Peace.”
 
Sometimes that is exactly the way we feel, especially the slapping part. People can irritate us and we envision just knocking the stuffing out of them. It would be so satisfying, so instinctual. In the movie “She wore a Yellow Ribbon”, the great American cult hero of the silver screen, John Wayne, remarked, “Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” This rings so differently than Jesus’ ethic of turning the other cheek and of loving even our enemies.
 
These words of Jesus are most difficult to understand and more so to practice. They are often over-interpreted or under-interpreted. Some people think that Jesus is offering a pattern for the State. This would be the new law of the land. If applied literally as law for the State, would it not disarm every soldier, dis-empower every police officer, render the courts of justice useless and open all of the prisons to unleash dangerous criminals on a defenseless population? Chaos would ensue in society. We need to avoid that extreme. Nevertheless, some apply his words just that way. The Amish folk in Pennsylvania withdraw from society and try as best they can to apply Jesus’ words literally to all of their affairs. It creates a separate society, a sect, an artifact of people withdrawn from society at large, peculiar, antique, curiosities for tourists to visit. Others dismiss Jesus’ words as woefully inadequate and hopelessly unrealistic. To them Jesus was a wild-eyed dreamer, a crackpot prophet, an ancient flower child unable to offer real help to the rough and tumble violent world in which we live. We must avoid both extremes. Let us see what we can do towards understanding Jesus’ words and apply them rightly.
 
Jesus and the Law of retaliation
Jesus quoted from Exodus 21:24. We find this text in the ancient Book of the Covenant that gave basic law for Israel. It concerned the law of retaliation, or lex talionis. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:23-25
This law intended to limit the punishment to fit the damage. In the ancient Israelite tribal society, if someone injured or killed another person, sometimes the retaliation, guided by human anger and thirst for revenge would punish far beyond the harm actually done. We see this illustrated in the haughty little song sung by an ancient man, Lamech in Genesis 4. Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."
The punishment should fit the amount of injury. That was the law. In the time of Jesus, they did not interpret this literally. The courts prescribed monetary compensation instead of literally injuring a person as just retribution. This principle should still be the law of the land. The punishment or compensation should fit the amount of injury. Yet Jesus, in his Kingdom Manifesto outlines other possibilities for responses to a wrong inflicted. Remember Jesus is not prescribing a new order for society. He is not speaking of magistrates and police, soldiers or governors.  He is addressing his disciples, his followers who are to serve as “Salt and Light” in the world. His disciple can respond in a different and surprising way. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
In saying this, Jesus speaks of four assaults on a person’s honor and well-being. He gives possibilities for his disciples to respond in a different way, a kingdom way.
Assault on Personal Honor
The   striking  of   the   right   cheek   meant  a deliberate insult. In that culture in order to render an insult a person would use their right hand to slap their right cheek of a person whom they held as utterly contemptible. The slap demonstrated absolute repudiation and insult the person’s honor and dignity. The proper and expected response would be anger, rage at one’s offended honor. However, Jesus offers an alternate way. The disciple does not need to defend his or her honor. One’s honor is left up to God alone. In a surprising way, the disciple may offer the other cheek to show that such demonstrations of revenge to right the wrong are beneath the disciple. This is not a blessing on cowardice. It is strength. The disciple knows that God gives honor and that God honors those who honor God. Trading insults is grownup child’s play, far beneath the disciple. The disciple focuses on God’s mission, not on the respect he or she is due. Retaliation, fighting, inflicting injury, tit for tat only increases the alienation and further unravels the warp of woof of human society. To slap the cheek refers to a deliberate insult to one’s honor. Jesus tells his salty, light-filled followers…just offer the other one.
 
Assault on one’s honor of possessions
The next saying takes us into the courts of law. Jesus did not say that there should not be a court of law. Rather he referred to when someone chooses to attack ones property to unjustly take away one’s tunic in a legal battle. The tunic was the undergarment the basic clothes a man wore in those days. Again Jesus offers the possibility that the cloak or outer garment can also be offered. This would leave the person naked. Such action would be an act of faith in the Heavenly Father who clothes the flowers of the field would certainly provide covering for us. To the case of suffering injustice in a law suit against ones property, even as close as one’s garments, Jesus says, it is possible for his disciple to go beyond the unjust ruling and offer the outer garment as well. This gesture would certainly bear witness that you live by different principles and trust a different master.
Assault of one’s honor by exploitation of one’s service
Jesus then points to a common form for colonial exploitation. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Jesus refers to the law of the occupying Romans.  A Roman soldier could legally requisition any Jew to carry his field gear and baggage for up to one mile. Jesus did not mention the injustice and resentment that this practice caused. The Romans were the colonial overlords. That was as true as it was that the sun shines. But the Jew could resist this and bring destruction to himself, his family and possibly the nation. Jesus advises to go beyond the unjust and annoying requirement. Deal with the problem directly. You are not a cowering, resentful servant; you have risen above that. You can do a gesture of friendship towards even the Roman soldier. You can show that you treat him not as a faceless enemy but as a possible brother, a potential friend, a burdened man who could use your help.
 
Assault on one’s good graces by undependable borrowers and takers
The next word of Jesus refers to the irksome situation wherein we are asked to give some thing or to lend something, especially when you have little confidence that they will return the item of repay the money. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. This openhanded generosity of Jesus can be another sign of our saltiness in this world.
Jesus said “Turn the other cheek”. He did not say “turn another’s cheek”. He did not say “stand by when others are exploited”. He did not say, “Deliver the weak and victims of injustice to their tormentors”. His words do not lead us to abandon those who suffer to their oppressors. He said Turn the other cheek. He did not say that if they poke out an eye offer the other eye. He wants us to use common sense and not submit to mutilation. He referred to times when people impugn our honor. He does not to make us easy targets for manipulation and exploitation. He wants us to take no foolish risks. He does send us out to draw enemy fire or for others to take advantage of us needlessly. He did not say that the State should act this way. The Sate serves a different purpose. The State exercises coercive power to restrain evil and punish the criminals. The State is an agent of God in this world. Paul wrote that God established the State to punish evildoers and reward the good. The State does not bear the sword in vain.
Carl, a Willingboro, New Jersey Police officer and member of my church some years ago came to me seeking some pastoral advice on a matter of conscience. The rough language and violent force necessary to use as a police officer bothered him. 
Sometimes pastor, I face situations like when a guy comes at me half drunk and swinging a broken off bottle. I have to put him down. Sometimes I use some pretty harsh language. We cops have to get pretty dirty with these guys. I feel bad as a Christian. But these guys just don’t respond to ‘nice’.”-Carl
Jesus did not address his words to police officers apprehending a dangerous criminal who cause harm to other citizens. He addressed his followers in their day-to-day personal experiences. He did not require a judge to “forgive” every criminal. It is the judge’s God-given duty to judge fairly and execute the sentence with equity. This may mean that the judge exacts a fine, or sentences the convicted criminal to time in prison or even in extreme situations, to death.
 
Jesus outlined possible alternative responses from his followers as they live as salt and light in this world. He pointed out the opportunities for disciples to demonstrate that they can be “surprising people”, as Bonhoeffer called them. They are not bound to respond like those of the world usually respond. As Harvard Divinity professor, Krister Stendahl, stated, “…we can do all these crazy things for the kingdom of God.”  
How do we know what to do? How can we apply these teachings to our lives? Let us be clear about this: Jesus does not give us a detailed map. Instead he gave us a compass. We have his words and we must work it out. As Paul told the Christians in Macedonia, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and do his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12)
Jesus’ words become even more difficult and counter-instinctual when he further instructs his disciples to break through all barriers and boundaries and love indiscriminately: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
How can we do this? It is not possible if we draw only from the well of our natural human resources. Loving our neighbor we can do. Loving our friends and our family we can do. That is natural. It is hard sometimes, but lies within the human realm to accomplish this. Loving a fellow citizen we can do. What about an insulting enemy? What about a hated Roman occupier?  What about collaborating tax collector?  What about the neighbor who complains about you to the management or the co-worker who seems to have it in for you? What about the abusive and insulting boss?  What about the smart mouthed teen who makes your life miserable?
 
Those situations require God’s special help. Jesus does not expect us to keep a stiff upper lip and soldier it out alone. These hard words of Jesus prove impossible for the natural man. To fulfill these words takes grace; it takes God’s supernatural intervention and Divine assistance. It takes relying on the promise of Jesus when he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Without Christ’s strong help we would soon burn out and our love turn to bitterness.
 
This kind of love flows from the heart of God. It isn’t produced by merely human effort. We can’t drum it up. But we can be open as a channel of this love. This love comes from God who can love through us. When we become a clear windowpane, through which the bright light of God’s love beams, then we show that we are indeed children of God, sons and daughters of God. The Father is perfect that way, complete, intact, whole. God can love unconditionally and God love’s through us unconditionally.
 
What about my rights? What about my honor and dignity? Yes we have our rights. Yet the disciple of Jesus, for the sake of the kingdom of God may renounce his or her rights. Jesus instructs his followers to be a “surprising people”, a peculiar people; a people who are willing to forgo their rights for the sake of a greater good, to bear witness to a kingdom of love, a people willing to absorb evil and forgive. I share with you a story that one of my friends recently wrote. Loraine wrote her story of being a surprising person:  “About 3 years ago, someone did something to me that was just horrible. I was so angry that I had a hard time sleeping at night. As a result of his wrong doing against me, I suffered financially while he continued to prosper and even sport around in a brand new Benz. I prayed for healing of my heart but at the same time I sought out an attorney to file suit. God led me to “not sue”. I didn’t. I trusted God to avenge me in the situation. I let it go and didn’t care if I never saw this person again. I told God I wanted this person to prosper, I wanted his family to prosper and I wanted him to know Christ (he was not a Christian). 2 years have passed. I hardly ever think about this person until one day, someone who knows both of us called to let me know that this person was ill and “looked like” he was near death.
 
When I heard the news, my heart sank. The person who passed the information on to me stated, “I don’t feel bad for him because he shouldn’t have treated you the way he did. He was wrong”. I thought about that and my response was, “no, we need to be praying for this person. I have forgiven him and what he did to me is nothing compared to the fact that his soul is in jeopardy of going to hell”. I began to pray that God will heal his body and send someone to minister salvation to him and that he will receive Jesus as Lord. For me, forgiveness and moving forward was the only option. Anything else (bitterness, unforgiveness, waiting for an apology – which I never received), was draining and emotionally unbearable. For me, it’s just easier to move on and never look back. There are times when this type of “moving on” is not the right thing to do. If someone raped or murdered a love one, I would be desperately hurt, but I would ask God to teach me how to forgive all over again. I would pursue the legal system for justice (because that’s what it’s designed for) and then I would work on moving on with my life as best as I can. This is what works for me because I have to have a way to have PEACE in my life and forgiveness gives me peace. Thanks for listening”. -Loraine
 
Loraine responded in a kingdom way. She is a surprising person. May God grant us the grace to love as God loves, to be instruments of peace, God’s peace. May we hear again the words of our Lord when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.” Amen 

About alwayscola18

*Always be misunderstood. *Majored in business administration, but contributing to satisfaction of primary living needs. *Prefer to speak out, and enjoy silence. *A Mandarin speaker, but not a grand-China nationalist; a Hokkien dialect speaker, but not an aggressive grass-root activist; an English reader, but not negative to my homeland; a baby Christian, but not a confrontationist to the God of earth. *With personalities of patience, cleverness, discernment, toleration, self-confidence, and friendliness.
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