Summary: The scriptures in Exodus provide a limitation on unlimited vengeance being meted out when someone is wronged, however Jesus declared that even an eye for an eye was going too far - Jesus commands his followers to turn the other cheek - to not resist evil
Be Holy. Be Perfect. Our Gospel and our OT readings this morning present us with two illustrations of how God expects his people to live. Each one describes different things to do, and not to do – however the goal of both readings is to provide us with a framework within which to seek justice and in which we can live out the reality of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
The OT reading however deals with how we deliver justice to others – how we live our lives in order NOT to be people seen by others to be evil. The NT reading deals with how we are to seek justice for ourselves – how we are to respond to the evil around us when we perceive that we are being dealt with unjustly.
On the face of it, the OT reading is simple and not overly difficult to achieve – let those who are less well off than you benefit from your abundance, don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie to each other. Nothing too arduous with those instructions. Don’t profane the name of YHWH, don’t deal with your neighbour or your hired workers unjustly – don’t hold back money you owe them.
Then there is an instruction to deal well with people living with disabilities – the first anti-discrimination legislation. In essence – the reading exhorts the Israelites, ad us by extension, to be nice to people and don’t be a bully – treat everyone fairly. Nothing overly complicated, unreasonable or beyond the ability of most human beings with any decent view life. It appears that by doing these things we can come somewhere close to following the first instruction: to be holy for the Lord your God is holy!
So that there is how we can ensure that we can live justly in relationship with other people – we can see clearly here what our responsibilities are. In what way, however do we deal with those people we encounter in our lives who have not read the book of Leviticus?
Around the world we attempt to ensure that people are in no doubt as to their responsibilities in relationship to one another as members of communities. We know exactly how we want to be and expect to be treated. The Universal Declarations of Human Rights, is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.
And the cry we hear whenever one of these human rights is transgressed, or in fact whenever personal injury occurs? An eye for an eye! Especially when we are confronted by a particularly heinous murder or other so called ‘capital’ crime – here in Australia we immediately hear the shock jocks and others call for the reintroduction of the death penalty – an EYE FOR AN EYE! In the Middle East – Israel kills a Palestinian and the Palestinians kill three Jews. A handful of Muslim extremist’s slaughter 3000 people and the US begins a war that has seen the greater part of over 1,500,000 people, many of whom are women and children, killed. AN EYE FOR AN EYE
Martin Luther King once said the following: Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.
The OT law of and eye for an eye is the equivalent of the Roman law of retaliation or the lex talionis was in fact a law that had at its heart a view of social justice – it sought to restrict the amount of retaliation that one could seek – retaliation had to be in direct proportion to the wrong committed. In its effect, it was a just law and was not meant to be seen as retribution, but just cause and effect – you do this to someone and this is what you can expect to happen to you.
Unlimited vengeance was the practice before the law of an eye for an eye. It is expressed by Lamech in Genesis. Lamech said to his wives: “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech will be avenged seventy-seven times”! Does that number sound familiar? “How many times should we forgive, seven times?” asks Peter? Jesus said, “Seventy-seven times.” Jesus transforms unlimited retaliation into unlimited forgiveness.