Summary: This message reminds us that Christ wants us to emphasize giving vis-a-vis taking. The Lex Talionis (Exodus 21:18-36, Leviticus 24:17-21 and Deuteronomy 19:15-21) said 'Don't take too much". But Jesus' message (Luke 6:27-29) was "Don't give too little".
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42; NRSV)
In this segment of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does two things. First he draws the crowd's attention to the teachings of the Law of Moses on reciprocal justice. The concept of reciprocal justice was not an exclusive Jewish practice. Other legal systems prior to the Jewish law also honored this code broadly known as the Lex Talionis. The Lex Talionis set a ceiling on reciprocal justice. Contrary to popular belief, it was not a mandate that an injured party seek retribution for a non-contractual wrong doing (or a tort as we know it). Rather, it was a guardrail that said that an injured party could not reciprocate beyond the scope of an injury. For example, an eye for an eye did not mean that a plaintiff should damage the eye of the defendant. It meant that the scope of recovery of damages should not be equal to the plaintiff losing both eyes. The message of the Lex Talionis was "Don't take too much".
The second thing that Jesus does is draw the crowd's attention to his teaching as a point of comparison. From verses 39 through 42, he shows himself as one who did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Jesus takes the ceiling of the Lex Talionis and makes it a floor. He tells them to offer twice as much as has been asked of them. The contrasting message of Christ was "Don't give too little".
Please know that as I compose these words, I am writing in a time of social retribution. There is mistrust and fear between nations. Nuclear power is used to fuel weapons instead of homes. There is mistrust and fear between governments and citizens. Government leaders fear treason and terrorist attacks, while citizens fear tyranny, taxation and mobile device surveillance. There is mistrust and fear between police officers and the citizens. Police officers have killed unarmed citizens while armed citizens have killed unsuspecting police officers. There is mistrust and fear between citizens. There is no court without a backlog of cases. The dictum of “love thy neighbor” has been replaced with “litigate thy neighbor”.
A dangerous game of 'payback poker' is being played in our world. Suspicion and dread are causing opposing sides to attack, raise the stakes, retaliate if attacked and then raise the stakes again. No one remembers who started the conflicts, but each side wants to end them. Is there a word from the Lord that can extricate revenge from our mind sets and put us on a better path?
I suggest to you that the word that we need has already been spoken by Christ. It is a radical word. It is an allocentric vis-a-vis an egocentric word. It is a word that changes our focus from restricting retaliation to releasing love. It is word that demands the courage to be different. It is a word that requires humility as a token of strength. It is a word that demands cool heads and not hot tempers. It is a word that says we must 'flip the script'.
Flipping the script means changing the economics of our relationships. Instead of saying 'you have what I need, so I will take' we now say 'I have what you need so I will give'. Flipping the script means changing how we see life. Instead of being frustrated by the limitations of retribution, we become excited about the unlimited opportunities to share God's love. Instead of using retaliation to balance the scales, we use love to ensure that the good outweighs the bad. Instead of destroying those who crucify us, we ask that they be forgiven.
As I present this case for us to flip the script, you may say 'Well, that all sounds good, but that is not how the world works. It is foolish to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile or give more than what was asked'. But please remember that in this same Sermon on the Mount, his followers were challenged to be the light of the world and not mirrors of its darkness. The Christian life is a life that is out of context with the world. It is a life that demands that we be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is a life that declares that if anyone is in Christ they are new creations; old things are passed away behold all things are made new. In effect, the new life that Christ gives requires that we pursue a new way of living. To the extent that Christ has flipped the script on our eternal tomorrow, he has the right to ask us to flip the script on how we live today.