Summary: Matthew 5:38-48 Loving my enemies
Loving my enemies
Well I know I keep getting up here week after week as we go through Matthew and just about every sermon I say the same thing, which is: “Today’s sermon is really difficult.” And today is no exception. Today’s sermon is really difficult. We’ve been looking at really difficult sermons lately haven’t we? For example, Jesus has told us it’s not good enough just not to murder someone. We also mustn’t be angry at them. Jesus has told us that it’s not good enough just not to commit the act of adultery. We also mustn’t even think about it, flirt with someone, or entice someone to lust after us. Jesus has told us it’s not good enough to divorce or husbands or wives for any thing, except in the case of sexual immorality. Jesus has told us it’s not good enough to only tell the truth and keep our promises when we are under oath, but we must do it all the time. And all those things are really difficult. But I think today’s sermon probably takes the cake in difficultness.
Today we look at turning the other cheek and loving your enemies as we look at Matthew 5:38-48. So let’s jump in and have a look at them. Remember that throughout the Sermon on the Mount so far, that Jesus has been quoting parts of the Old Testament, as well as sometimes also quoting religious tradition that had sprung up alongside the Old Testament teaching. And in today’s passage He does that too. He starts with
Matthew 538 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
This comes from a few places in the Old Testament. One of them is:
Lev 2419 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.
Now so that we can understand the rest of our passage we need to understand what this Old Testament Law was designed to do. It was designed to limit retaliation. Now back then people were much the same as they are today. So, let me ask you an honest question, “what do you want to do when someone does something wrong by you?” There’s no need to answer out loud – although if someone is brave enough to you are welcome! But for all us, think back in your minds to the last time you were wronged, and your reaction to that. Now I’ll be honest and brave and I will admit that some of things I would like to do in retaliation to those who have hurt me have not been very Christian. Without going into details, things involving guns, slow forms of torture and other things that I have considered appropriate at the time have crossed my mind. When we are wronged our natural instinct is that we want to get back. And we normally want to get back worse than we got, so we can teach them a lesson! And in some cultures that escalation of vengeance can lead to blood fueds that last generations. And whole books have been written about those blood fueds and the damage they cause, such as Romeo and Juliet and the Godfather series about the Sicilian mafia. And they aren’t always that far from the truth.
So the Old Testament laws were designed to firstly seek justice for wrongs, but also to limit retaliation. If someone knocked out your eye, well you could knock out their eye but that was all. You couldn’t go and knock out both eyes for instance. And so it’s important for us to realise that the Old Testament laws were there to limit and regulate retaliation, revenge and vengeance. And that sounds quite fair enough. We have a form of that in our society too. When someone wrongs us, we seek recompense and that seems fair. And so Jesus’ followers up on the mountain probably weren’t that surprised that Jesus should quote such a fair law from the Old Testament. But then Jesus goes on to fulfil that Law – bring it to its completion when He says:
Matthew 5 39a But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.
Ah… come again? If I was a listener up there on the mountain top that’s what I’d be saying. And if I wasn’t so used to what Jesus says here, I’d be saying the same thing now. And perhaps we’ve gotten so used to the Sermon on the Mount and the whole turning the other cheek thing that we’ve missed the shock value of what Jesus is saying. Do not resist the one who is evil, or as some versions say, Do not resist an evil person. Do we really get what Jesus is saying here? Yep, He says, the Old Testament says, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. Retaliation is okay provided it is limited and measured. That’s what the Old Testament is saying, but I say to you - don’t retaliate at all! Does that make sense? Then Jesus gives us three examples of not just not retaliating, but of actually going along with the person who is trying to hurt us. Let’s look at them: The first one is the famous: