Summary: 1) Break the Cycle of Retribution, 2) Start a New Cycle of Love. "What goes around comes around" is not the final answer. Love graciously as God loves.
Getting Life Right: RE-CYCLING RELATIONSHIPS—Matthew 5:38-48
Most relationships follow a simple rule: “What goes around comes around.” If interactions between people are going in a positive direction, the relationship thrives, with reciprocal affirmation, encouragement, cooperation, and kindness. If interactions between people are going in a negative direction, the relationship might take a downward spiral into pain, antagonism, and mutual destruction.
You might be experiencing something like that at work, or among your relatives. It might even be going on at your house. A positive cycle builds on good vibes, but a downward spiral can be hard to interrupt.
HOW CAN WE RE-CYCLE RELATIONSHIPS THAT ARE GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION?
(You might be able to think of a specific relationship—maybe someone you are close to, or a less intense working relationship, or occasional interactions with your neighbor. There might be a big problem, or small issues that come up on occasion.)
What does Jesus say about re-cycling relationships?
Read Matthew 5:38-48.
THE NATURAL CYCLE IS PAYBACK.
You reach out to me, so I reach out to you. I do you a favor, so you do me a favor. You are inconsiderate, and I get upset and make you feel bad.
Jesus referred to that payback cycle, saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” That was a common legal principle in the ancient world, appearing in Hammurabi’s Code in Babylon more than 1800 years before Jesus. It was also found in the OT, in passages such as Leviticus 24:17-22, “Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.”
That may sound vindictive, even barbaric, but it was actually a step forward. The punishment was to fit the crime, and justice should apply to all, even foreigners. Retaliation was not allowed to escalate, as it sometimes does when people feud. Even today, we hear on the news about people being killed to avenge a failed drug deal or a lost girlfriend.
Yet payback doesn’t really solve any problems. What is the benefit of having two guys running around with only one eye? Or what is the benefit of a husband and wife both hurting, because of cruel words they said to each other?
Payback destroys close relationships. He has to work late and doesn’t think to call, so she is upset and angrily steers him toward the microwave. The next night she faces a crisis with the kids, and dinner is late again. His comment about that is met with, “You don’t even know what our kids are doing most of the time.” He feels attacked, and criticizes how she handles them. They begin to constantly bicker about who should be cooking dinner or helping with homework. They argue about who does more work around the house, and they retreat to their phones and headphones.
Payback doesn’t work for people we care about.
But what about people who aren’t close? What about people we are forced to deal with—people at work, neighbors, or people we do business with. Some of them are downright nasty!
Jesus has something to say about how to handle an EVIL person: Matthew 5:39, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.”
Really, Jesus? We can’t let an evil person win! Proverbs 25:26 says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” Isn’t it our obligation to stand against unfairness, abuse, or bullying? Are you telling us, Jesus, that we should tolerate fraud, racism, or evil tyrants?
Earlier in chapter 5, Jesus told his disciples that he did not come to abolish the OT, but to fulfill it. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Jesus is not contradicting what Isaiah said about upholding justice for all.
Jesus himself cleared the temple courts of unscrupulous merchants with a whip made out of cords. He took on the Pharisees, calling them “hypocrites…a brood of vipers…whitewashed tombs.” He risked his life to heal a woman on the Sabbath, and he stood up for tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers.
People in authority wield power to protect others and preserve justice. Paul talked about the role of government officials as agents of God’s justice: