Summary: Lesson 6 in a series. This lesson focuses on how we relate to people who don’t like us.
How to Fix the Other Guy
In Brazil, several Indians who had been refused an audience with then President Ernesto Geisel because they were not wearing ties told the press they would “insist that any government official visiting an Indian Village must wear a feathered headdress and body paint.” Reuters
It’s natural for us to want to retaliate. Tit for tat! Quid pro quo. What goes around comes around. Don’t get mad, get even! But we usually live by another saying, “Don’t get even! Get ahead!”
We’ve been talking about permanent fixes in our lives and I know sometimes we would love to permanently fix the other guy. This morning we’ll look at what Jesus says about dealing with “the other guy.” Matthew 5:38-42
You have heard that it was said, ’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
Jesus tells us how to deal with “an evil person.” That will be important. We often deal with our brothers and sisters in Christ with kindness and mercy, but feel justified in our unkind reactions to obviously evil people. Remember in all these examples that Jesus is talking about how disciples should respond to evil people.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First Jesus addresses what we have heard. You have heard an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. He was quoting from the Old Testament. Exodus 21:23-25 says, “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Leviticus adds, “fracture for fracture.” This law was intended to prevent unlimited retribution. You know how people are. If you hit me once, I’m going to hit you twice for good measure. This law was designed to limit revenge. It was also only in the context of the court system, not personal revenge. It was a guideline for judges. They were to be fair. And that’s what this law was all about – being fair. Jesus essentially says, You have heard that life is fair. His very next word should give us a clue where he is headed. Our teenagers already know where he’s going with this point. Every time they’ve ever complained about something not being fair, they have gotten this response. Jesus essentially says, You have heard that life is fair, but I say to you. Who told you life was fair? Life is not fair. Judges have to be fair, but life is under no such rule. Life is most certainly not fair.
To look at this verse in context, we need to make some necessary notes. I hate giving notes – it sounds too much like school, but we have to know a few things before we dig into this passage.
First, Jesus says, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
This passage has been used to justify non violent protests for years. But it doesn’t deal with physical violence. The slap that is described was the highest form of personal insult known to that culture. Even today, slapping a man across the face is the greatest insult you can give in many Middle Eastern countries. It is not a call to fight nor does it refer to throwing punches. It refers to an insult to one’s personal character.
Second Jesus speaks of tunics and cloaks, neither of which we use any more. Some translations talk about shirts and coats and that comes closer. The tunic was a light undergarment that everyone had several of. The cloak, however, was a heavier outer garment. Only rich people would have more than one of these. It was much more expensive than the tunic. It is this cloak that the old Testament said could not be taken away from a fellow Israelite. If he borrowed from you and secured the loan with his cloak, you had to give it back to him before nightfall in case that was all he had to keep warm. [Ex 22:26]
Third Jesus speaks of being forced to go one mile and offering to go two. Again, this is not a situation that happens to us today. You are probably all familiar with the immediate history behind this saying. The Romans were ruling the Jews at this time and a Roman soldier always had the right to force you to carry his pack for one mile. Now a Roman mile wasn’t like one of our miles, it was 1000 paces, but it was still tough to do.