And now it’s time for something completely different. I’m still in the sermon on the mount, but we’ve come to the last two sections of Matthew 5, the sections on retaliation and the section on loving (and praying) for our enemies. Nobody else in history, before or after, taught his or her followers to turn the other cheek (I will grant that Ghandi may have taught much along these lines, but he took that from Jesus himself) and love their enemies. Love your enemies is the most unique teaching of Jesus Christ, maybe the most unique teaching in human history. It is completely different from anything ever taught before or since.
But I will get to loving our enemies tomorrow!! One step at a time…
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. Let’s just get this out of the way here – these are not laws of Jesus being laid down that we must follow in every situation. There will be situations in life when we will have to use our judgement not to turn the other cheek. But as a general matter of who we become as we prayerfully enter the kingdom of God by following in the path of Jesus, this will become our default mode of dealing with those who come against us. As human beings our default (our autopilot if you will) is to return evil for evil. But just as the kingdom turns the world upside down and now the last can be first and the first find themselves last, so our autopilot is flipped and now we naturally begin to return not evil but good for the wrongs that come against us. Part of this is because as forgiven sinners we can forgive sinners, and we can see past the wrong someone is or intends to do to us, and we see that he/she is more than just that wrong. We see that he too is a child of God, we see much of our own selves within them. Seen this way, we can then pray a prayer much like Jesus did on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
When we turn the other cheek, we make ourselves vulnerable. We give up our natural inclination to retaliate, to resist the evil done to us. While we never turn someone else’s cheek or make someone else vulnerable, we will allow ourselves to be injured rather than injure our attacker. Hard teaching, to be sure. But don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just teach this, He lived it out in his passion, ultimately being hanged from a tree.
There will be times when we use our judgment not to turn the other cheek, such as when others are at risk, or our very lives might be at risk (just as examples), but our default way of being will be to remain vulnerable and turn the other cheek.
And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone who is suing you wants to take your coat, give it to him. As long as you or someone doesn’t actually need it more, give it to them. Despite the fact that they have hostility toward us, we have no ill will for them and intend to help them as much as possible.
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. In Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers or officials could require citizens to carry their gear for mile. So, if we are asked to carry that gear for a mile, do we get to the mike marker, drop the bag on their foot and say “You’re on your own from here!?” Nope…we cheerfully regard his need as important to us, and go with them an extra mile. The appropriate point here is that as we follow Christ, we are to go above and beyond what is asked. We don’t just do the bare minimum.
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. When we pray to God for something, does he grant our requests because we deserve it? Or just because he loves us? Which do we hope for and believe? We believe God grants our requests and prayers simply because we ask it of him. In giving to those that ask of us, whether they have any right to ask or not, we give simply because they ask. It’s what our father in heaven does.
Four examples of what we will be like as we grow closer to walking in the footsteps of Christ. Not laws, but examples. Easy stuff, isn’t it?? It’s no wonder we’ve made salvation a matter of saying a couple of prayers and declaring we’re going to heaven. It’s no wonder we sell Christianity as a way to get a free ticket on Jesus’ 747 express flight to heaven, and over here we have the “optional” upgrade called discipleship. Except discipleship is not optional. It’s part of our salvation experience. It’s how we grow in Christ and participate in bringing His kingdom of love on earth as it is in heaven. And it is a very narrow path. As I’ve heard it said before, this Christian walk is not for punks.
We haven’t even gotten to the love your enemies part.
It’s a good thing he does not leave us to do these things alone. On our own these things are impossible. With God, they begin to simply be who we are.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“”You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Matthew 5:38-42 ESV