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. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
An eye for an eye refers to a passage in the Old Testament law stating, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:23-25) This was a legal form of retaliation and only to be administered through the court system. Jesus is introducing a new idea here. Most scholars agree that Jesus was not talking about serious criminal matters here. Rather, He was talking about personal offenses in every day life. In some of the situations He mentions here, Roman soldiers (Israel was under Roman occupation) were involved. When they were marching through town they could ask you to carry their bags a certain distance. Jesus says to double that! The main purpose of these behaviors was to make God’s children stand out as His peace-making, loving, and caring servants (v. 45). Jesus is after something bigger than just setting things right between people in this temporal world. He is looking to make things better. God is very good at going that extra mile, giving the shirt off His back, and taking it on the cheek. It’s one aspect of His amazing grace toward a sinful world (sun and rain for the just and unjust-v. 45). Only when we quit keeping track of offences do we start to have that kind of grace in our actions. When that happens, we will start to look a lot like our Father and displaying a kind of love that is beyond the world’s conditional love. And that will get the world’s attention, making a way for them to discover peace and reconciliation with a God who loves them. Jesus knows living this kind of love is a process, and He sets the goal really high for us (v.48), but as we keep growing toward this we will increasingly reflect His love to the world.
Have you ever had a time when you decided to take the bigger and better choice and offered grace and unconditional love to someone? Are you facing a situation like that now? Ask for God’s help to apply the kind of love Jesus talks about here.