Summary: How are we to understand this teaching of Jesus? 1. It is about trusting God. 2. It is about not doing it our way. 3. It is about being like God.
In Judith Viorst’s book for children entitled I’ll Fix Anthony, Anthony’s younger brother complains about the way his older brother treats him. The little brother says: “My brother Anthony can read books now, but he won’t read any books to me. He plays checkers with Bruce from his school. But when I want to play he says, ‘Go away or I’ll clobber you.’ I let him wear my Snoopy sweatshirt, but he never lets me borrow his sword. Mother says deep down in his heart Anthony loves me. Anthony says deep down in his heart he thinks I stink. Mother says deep deep down in his heart, where he doesn’t even know it, Anthony loves me. Anthony says deep deep down in his heart he still thinks I stink. When I’m six I’ll fix Anthony. . . . When I’m six I’ll float, but Anthony will sink to the bottom. I’ll dive off the board, but Anthony will change his mind. I’ll breathe in and out when I should, but Anthony will only go glug, glug. . . . When I’m six my teeth will fall out, and I’ll put them under the bed, and the tooth fairy will take them away and leave dimes. Anthony’s teeth won’t fall out. He’ll wiggle and wiggle them, but they won’t fall out. I might sell him one of my teeth, but I might not. . . . Anthony is chasing me out of the playroom. He says I stink. He says he is going to clobber me. I have to run now, but I won’t have to run when I’m six. When I’m six, I’ll fix Anthony.” Most of us know the feeling of Anthony’s little brother — whether we want to fix a family member, a person at work or a one-time friend who did us wrong.
All of us have felt the desire to “get even” with someone, pay them back, settle the score or exact an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” — maybe even two teeth for a tooth. But Jesus really messes with our desire to take justice into our own hands. We not only want justice to be done, we want to be the one to do it. We have to admit that these words of Jesus are extremely difficult and that we do not like them much. We want to be able to stand up for ourselves and defend ourselves. Turning the other cheek sounds ridiculous to us. And what about giving more to the person who is suing us than they are asking? We might go the second mile for our family, but for our enemies? It doesn’t sound very practical.
But for the next few moments let’s imagine that Jesus is serious about what he said and actually expects us to live this way. However, let me give one disclaimer before we begin, one qualification. Jesus did not mean for us literalistically to turn this into a rule or law, which is what we tend to do with most religious teachings, so that it is always and in every situation the thing that must be done. For instance, a wife is not to put up with physical abuse. We are not to stand by and watch a child being victimized. It does not mean that you never lock your door, or just allow someone to take everything you have. Jesus is not proposing a literal rule for us to follow, he is helping us to see what the characteristic behavior of his followers is like. This is an important point. Dallas Willard is helpful here when he says, “In every concrete situation we have to ask ourselves, not ‘Did I do the specific things in Jesus’ illustrations?’ but ‘Am I being the kind of person Jesus’ illustrations are illustrations of?’” In other words, generally, and as a matter of course, this is how kingdom people live. They do not take revenge. They do not try to get even. They do not trade criticisms and insults. They are willing to go the second mile and are not paranoid about being taken advantage of. They give and lend without worrying about getting back. They give more than is asked of them.
How can this be? Is God expecting the impossible of us? In a different context Jesus was explaining another difficult kingdom principle to his disciples when they balked at the impossibility of his teaching. But he looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). This is not something we can achieve on our own. This is only accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as we consistently spend time in prayer and study his Word. It happens only as we surrender to him, and from the core of our being desire his full will and purpose to be fulfilled in our lives. It happens as we understand that it is not just about being saved, but being transformed. Being a Christian is not a one time experience, it is a process. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon.