Eye for Eye
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV)
The phrase Jesus is using in this lesson dates back to the law of Moses. Exodus 21: 23-25, states, “23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” The idea being that justice should be proportional and equal to the crime committed. A person should not be sentenced to death for causing injury to another person, but could be sentenced to death for purposefully taking the life of another. Often, however, crimes were often repaid with goods or money, to compensate the person for the loss of income as a result of their injury.
In Jesus’ day, however, the Pharisees took a more literal interpretation of this law, just as many today do. If someone lied to you, you could lie to them. If someone punched you, you could punch them. The Pharisees permitted personal revenge for all types of wrongs committed against another. If a person … to you, you could … them.
Jesus taught the opposite. If someone sought to steal the shirt off your back, give them your coat as well. If someone asks for a sip of water, invite them in for dinner. Jesus separated the duty of the person from the duty of the law. The law, usually through judges and juries, can and should continue to prosecute crimes, granting justice that is equal to the crime. We are not to personally seek out justice. If we have been wronged, it is not wrong to have them punished under the law, however, we are not to personally give them their punishment. An eye for an eye is a judicial response, not a personal one.
Throughout Jesus’ teachings, He emphasizes constantly that we should be acting out of love to all that we encounter. Seeking revenge is not an act of love. We are not to harbor ill thoughts toward those who have wronged us, but rather forgive them, trusting to God that justice will prevail, if not on earth, then in heaven.
It is not easy to let go and forgive those that have harmed us. But we must remember that we have all harmed God. We all, every day, continually sin against Him, no matter how hard we strive not to. God forgives us! He continually forgives us for the wrongs we commit against Him. Jesus came to earth to accept the ultimate punishment for all those sins. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we are to hold ourselves to His standard. God has forgiven us. And we are to forgive others.
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