Matt 5:38-39 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye , and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
In this passage, Jesus takes a quotation from the Old Testament (Ex 21:23-25) and tells His disciples how they are to react differently. Some have looked upon this eye for eye principle as savage and merciless, but in reality, it was a merciful justice limiting the vengeance an offended party could take. Before this law was given, an offense by one person could cause the offended party to try to destroy the offender’s whole family. So the law limited the punishment and specified to whom it was to be administered. The law also required that the courts do the punishing, not the injured party.
But in actual practice, the law was seldom carried out because it was argued that it could result in ‘overcompensation’ – such as removing for a ‘good eye’ for a ‘bad eye’, or a ‘good’ tooth for a ‘bad’ tooth. The Jewish courts began placing a monetary value on an injury and requiring payment for such things as –loss of value in a slave, pain, healing expenses, loss of wages, and humiliation. And even in the Old Testament, there were glimpses of the mercy that God desires from His people. (Lev 19:17-18, Prov 25:21)
Jesus ended the resentment and the retaliation for those who would be His followers. When he said ‘striking on the right cheek’, it must be noted that for a normal right handed person – this would be a slap with the back of the hand. The rabbis taught that a backhanded slap was twice the insult of a normal slap. So Jesus is denying individual retaliation for even the gravest of insults. And he lived out His teaching – John 18:22-23, 1Pet 2:23.
Throughout the centuries, good people have been falsely accused and had their motives and conduct questioned. Early Christians were accused of being cannibals, arsonists, immoral, shameless – because they ate the Lord’s Supper (symbolic of His body and blood), they had ‘love feasts’ (a common meal), and they preached that the world would end by being burnt up. Remember that Jesus was called …’a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’. Luke 7:34
The true Christian has learned from the Master to accept insults without retaliation. (Matt 5:11-12) Will you focus on Christ and overlook the insults of those who falsely accuse you? Remember that Jesus is the victor, and that Satan’s power lies in attempting to discourage and intimidate us. May we keep our hearts and minds strong in the strength of the grace of the one who died on the cross to set us free!