Matthew 5:38-42

Setting and Overview
One of the oldest legal principles is lex talionis, which has been a key part of civil law for millennia and says that the degree of punishment for an act should correspond to the offense. The Old Testament laws of “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth” reflect this principle, and were intended to limit both the degree and the forum of punishment, preventing the cascade of violence that is all too common when people are out for revenge. Jesus’ listeners knew those principles well, and as a long-oppressed people, were eager to utilize any means they could to defend and protect themselves. The idea of forgoing those rights could hardly have been welcome to them, and the idea is little more appealing to us, but Jesus calls us and them to look to a higher purpose.  
 
Exposition
The principle of “eye for an eye” was seen multiple times in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:22-24, Leviticus 24:17-22, Deuteronomy 19:16-21.) It also allowed for monetary compensation to be substituted for physical harm in many situations (Exodus 21:26-27), but not murder (Numbers 35:31.) By Jesus’ time, these monetary penalties were the norm in most situations. While these laws did not fully resolve conflicts or eliminate hatred and desire for revenge, by prescribing a limit on punishment and instructing individuals to rely on the justice of the courts (Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 19:15), the risk of a cycle of violence was reduced. Under the oppression of Roman rule, the Jewish people often had few legal rights, and so any opportunity to resist or inflict a punishment, even if limited, was appealing.
Jesus challenges them to forgo those rights to resist, and then He lays out four specific examples. In the first, someone receives a backhanded insult slap on their check (Isaiah 50:6, Matthew 26:67.) Instead of slapping back, striking the other party, or suing for damages, they are instructed to make it easy for them to slap the other cheek. In the second example, someone is suing them for their tunic. Instead of fighting the suit or suing back, they are instructed to give their cloak, which the other party would not have legally been able to take (Exodus 22:25-27, Deuteronomy 24:10-13.) In the third, a Roman soldier forces them to carry gear for exactly one mile, which was as far as they were allowed to make them. Instead of fighting the soldier, Jesus instructs them to offer to carry it even further. In the last example, someone who could not afford to repay asks to borrow money (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), and possibly even deceitfully. Instead of looking for an excuse to refuse, His disciples are instructed to do everything possible to honor the request, even to financial loss.
 
Examination and Application

Is Jesus saying that all resistance is wrong? Are Christians prevented from protecting ourselves, protecting others, serving in law enforcement or military, and utilizing the courts? It seems to be significant in that each of the examples, there is no need for Jesus’ followers to protect against further loss or to protect others, and that in each case there is a chance to send a shocking and powerful message. That fact, and other New Testament passages (Romans 13:1-7, Acts 16:37, 22:25) would seem to indicate that the answer to those questions is “no” but that shouldn’t be an excuse for us to limit the power of Jesus’ words here. He is calling us to be willing to endure any insult, give up our belongings and comfort, submit to unfair treatment by those in authority, and suffer financial loss if it will advance the Kingdom. Simply put, He is telling us to view the Gospel as more important than our rights. Jesus demonstrated this perfectly in His life and especially on the cross, and we are called to follow His example (I Peter 2:21-23.) The man who wrote those words had to learn that lesson painfully and dramatically (Matthew 16:22-23), but just as he learned that God’s way is not man’s way, we are called to do the same.  
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