No matter what source we get our news from, regular or social media, we are constantly bombarded with stories of seemingly wanton atrocities – acts of naked hatred – committed by one group of people against another. The latest is from Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, where a rally of “white supremacists” turned violent, resulting in death and injury to the innocent.
We also hear of the increasing intensity of hate activities against those who profess faith in Jesus from countries closer to home – persecutions, kidnappings, oppressions, and so on.
Because of this, I thought about what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:39 – “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
What does He mean? Is Jesus urging Christians to become passive victims? Are we to suffer in silence and refuse to seek legal protection?
To understand this, we have to know the context of his statement, as well as his audience. Jesus prefaced his statement above with, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'” (v.38). He was referring to Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:20. The “eye for an eye” retribution mentioned in those scriptures was properly administered only after an offender had stood trial before the priests and judges who weighed the circumstances and the degree of deliberateness of the offense. (See also Deuteronomy 19:15-21.)
Over time the Jews distorted the application of this law. The “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” was used as grounds for revenge, which were often carried to the utmost extremity. More evil was often returned than what had been received. The law of God never permitted this.
Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount reflects the true spirit of God’s Law to Israel. Jesus did not mean for his followers to offer one cheek after being struck on the other. In Bible times, as is often true today, a slap was not intended to injure but intended to provoke a reaction or a confrontation.
Evidently, then, Jesus’ meaning is to avoid retaliating and causing a vicious circle of rendering evil for evil.
The Apostle Paul in Romans also teaches this principle – “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”
Pastor Robert Chew