Modern Israel lives by 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' as it relates to protecting their nation.
In film, books, and popular culture 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' is understood to be 'you hit me, I hit you back'. Revenge. Retaliation. Vengeance. Everyone assumes that is what God said...right? Partially right, but not quite. Jesus tried to set the record straight, but it remains a confusing subject for many Christians.
Context, context once again
In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus deals with walking in love. He is comparing what the Pharisees taught versus what scripture actually says, what it actually meant.
In the middle of Matthew 5 Jesus talks of anger without a reason, equating lust with the action, and then switches in the last part of the chapter to talk of walking in love. He acknowledges that it has been said, 'An eye for an eye', and then talks of no longer retaliating an eye for an eye, but rather love one another.
The first mention of an eye for an eye as a matter of Israeli law is found in Exodus 21. It was in Exodus 20 that Moses received the 10 Commandments, and what followed was the moral and health parts of the 'law of Moses'. It is generally agreed there were 613 laws given to Moses by God, summed up by the 10, which itself was divided into 2 parts:The first 4 had to do with honoring God, the last 6 with honoring man. Those 10 and their 2 parts were summarized with:Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The example the Lord gave Moses is also a key verse to understanding God considers a baby in the womb to be a human being, in 21:22-25:
"If two men are fighting and a nearby pregnant woman is injured so that she loses her baby, yet it wasn't an assault on her, the man will be fined accordingly, as the woman's husband and the judges determine. If however, he intended to do her harm, then he will forfeit his life for the baby's. Eye for eye, hand for hand, tooth for tooth..."
On the one hand we can see the husband and injured wife would be rightfully angry at the man who assaulted her, resulting in her miscarriage. An eye for an eye could in their hearts be seen as exacting revenge on the man who killed their baby and assaulted the woman. Justice served, and that's correct as far as it goes.
But look closer.
At its core, 'an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth' is restitution, not revenge. That the man would forfeit his life for the one he took from the couple, is a repayment, blood for blood. The larger context of chapter 21, v18-19 tells us if a person causes injury to another, they must pay for the full recovery of the injured person, including the loss of his time. That is eye for an eye - if I injured your eye then I will pay for the doctor's bill and pay for your time off work. That is the context of an eye for an eye.
In v33-34 it says if one were to dig a pit and the neighbor's ox or donkey falls into it, and the one who dug the pit didn't warn his neighbor, he must restore the animals to health, or pay to have them replaced according to their injury. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hoof for a hoof. It is restitution, not retaliation, as the original intent.
Fast forward to Jesus' time
By Jesus' day courts for misdemeanors required a man face his accuser. If the defendant was found guilty by the judge, the plaintiff would often be given the opportunity to slap the defendant on the face. A slap was to be disgraced, and then the defendant would also be fined by the judge. It was common practice. By medieval times a person would slap another to dishonor them and goad them into a duel or joust, but you get the idea.
Matthew 5:38-39:"You have head it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'; but I say to you that you don't resist evil, but offer the other cheek as well."
This is about restitution. Understand that Matthew 5:1 tells us the Sermon on the Mount begins as private instruction between Jesus and His disciples, so He is telling them how to walk in love, and how to get through potential tough situations. In this case, turning the other cheek was understood that if they are insulted or even taken to court and found guilty, and the winner of the case wishes to slap you, offer the other cheek just to make sure they feel justice has been met - that is how to walk in love towards them.
But notice that turning the other cheek places limits on how much you are expected to attempt to reconcile and/or make efforts to be at peace with the person you offended. Just 1 slap. Not 2 or 3, but 1 only. Similarly, Jesus uses examples of someone wanting in need being given 1 coat out of your closet, not your whole wardrobe.
Another cultural example from this passage is the 'walk an extra mile' of 5:41. Back when Persia's empire expanded beyond a day's ride on a horse, a law was made that any messenger from the king could borrow anyone's animal so the messenger can continue his message to get news from the king to the far reaches of the empire. But the law stated such a messenger can only borrow the animal for 1 mile, and the owner of the animal had the right to accompany the messenger so that he could retrieve his animal. (The Greek word for mile in 5:41 is 'million'. A Roman mile was 1478.5 meters or 5820.9 feet, or 1,000 paces)
This passage is all about making things right - from the 1 extra slap on the face to 1 coat from the closet to walking 1 extra mile - Jesus is teaching about love and how to love those who aren't easy to love. After this He told them that sinners love those easy to love, and to do so is no credit to His disciples. Loving those you don't feel like loving is what Jesus wants us to do:"Be like your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven causes the sun to shine on the just and unjust, and causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust....therefore be mature and complete in love, as is your Father." v43-48
On practical terms for today's use
How do we offer someone we offended the other cheek? How do we give them an extra coat or walk an extra mile for them, when those aren't our customs today?
Once you apologize to that person you offended, perhaps take them to get a coffee or tea, or perhaps to lunch and pay for it. Or perhaps send them a card in the mail - the turning of the cheek, giving the coat, and walking the mile was about doing something to communicate to that other person you want to be sure things are good between you, or at least you can say you did more than necessary in an attempt to build a bridge towards them. If they build a wall when you build a bridge, then that is on them. At least you tried. But you don't have to keep trying. 1 slap, 1 coat, 1 mile. Then they are on their own.
These things and much more are covered my series Sermon on the Mount 1 and 2, if interested. New subject next week, until then, blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at email@example.com