An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Retaliation—one of the world’s oldest and most contagious sins. Did you know that the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” was designed to put a limit on retaliation? You can find it in Leviticus 24:19-20. The goal was to keep people from inflicting more damage than they had received. Actually, it was considered an innovation for its time. It was not uncommon for a victim to over-retaliate against his attacker. If one man killed another man’s brother, the second man would feel justified in killing the first man’s entire family. So this law helped keep the cycle of revenge from spiraling into ever-increasing violence.
As helpful as this law was, Jesus asks us to go one daring step further. Don’t resist evil, he says, conquer it with good. Choose mercy and love over vengeance. After all, that’s what Jesus did. Consider all the offenses he had to endure, even before his crucifixion. All the lies, the gossip, and the false accusations—even the demands of the crowds, who seemed to have no regard for his own needs. Surely these offenses cried out for an answer!
But how did Jesus respond? By loving more. By giving more. By forgiving more—seventy times seven times. There was no resentment in his voice, no reluctance in his miracles, no indignation in his attitude. Even when he was rebuking his opponents or overturning tables in the Temple, it was out of anguish, not rage. Then came the ultimate show of mercy triumphing over retaliation: on the cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them”.
Turn the other cheek. Resist not the evildoer.
These are challenging words. It’s tempting to say that Jesus was just exaggerating, but his own witness tells us otherwise. He really does want us to be as merciful and peaceloving as possible. But he also knows who we are and how far we have to go before we get there. He knows that we want to be forgiving, but that there are certain situations that can be very hard for us. So take heart, try your best, and remember that Jesus is perfectly merciful. He will never demand “an eye for an eye” from you. No, he chooses to pray, “Father, forgive.” Every time.
word among us