An Eye For An Eye

Matthew 5: 38, “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”
This is found in the oldest known law, the law of Hammurabi, which originated between 2285 and 2242 B.C. This was a law of vengeance. It allowed for paying back an injustice with an equal one, not an excessive one. It allowed only for equal payback. This was originally designed to prevent payback by harsher means than the offense.
Jesus stated it in order to cancel it and introduce a higher law which rejects vengeance and payback. He instructs us to respond to our injustices with a higher form of response —- love. Jesus then gives illustrations in the passage which indicate how we should respond in love.
One, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person…” (Vs. 39). This doesn’t mean not to defend yourself. The meaning of the Greek text is “don’t payback evil with evil means.” It means don’t be aggressive in retaliating by evil means. Don’t escalate the situation by trying to get even.
Jesus continues, “But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Vs. 39).
There is of course a limit to this but it means, “be very patient and don’t respond aggressively or rudely”. It means to respond in a positive courteous way to show an attitude and speak in such a way as to show the spirit of Jesus. The Bible say we are to be slow to anger. Jesus forgave even those who crucified Him.
Proverbs 16: 32 says, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty….”
Jesus is teaching that we should not meet evil with equal or greater force. We are to meet it with a greater positive force, kindness.
This does not mean don’t assert your right if struck. Jesus and Paul were both struck on the cheek. They didn’t strike back but they did appeal to their rights. By saying turn the other cheek He is saying it is best to receive a second affront than to stoop to the same level as the one striking the blow.
The second significant insight from Jesus is: “Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Vs. 41).
Roman soldiers had the right to compel a person to carry their pack a mile. Jesus instruction means go beyond what is required of you, go a second mile, and let him see the love of Jesus. In all things do more than is expected showing a Jesus’ like spirit.
Peter and Paul had a disagreement and confronted each other regarding it. They did it in a constructive way showing love for each other. They dealt with the principles and didn’t attack each other’s character. Their purpose was to resolve the issue in a Christlike way. In these Jesus is not establishing a new form of legalism. He is giving guidelines.
Jesus gives a third example: “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” (Vs. 40).  This does not mean do not allow yourself your legal rights. It mean be as gracious and generous as possible before resorting to legal self-defense. The teaching allows for self-protection but does not allow for vengeance.
A final illustration follows: “Give to him who ask you….” (Vs. 42). Jesus is not encouraging us to give endless amounts to money to every con-artists. It is an encouragement to be generous.
If this is interpreted in a mechanical and literal manner it becomes ridiculous. Jesus isn’t encouraging us to not be wise and give to every leach that comes along. The Scripture speaks of a lazy person who won’t work: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thess. 3:10).
Jesus is appealing to us to not be self-centered and selfish, but to help meet legitimate needs as best we can.
Every right is given to ask questions to determine if a need is legitimate.
The verse doesn’t say, “give to everyone everything they ask of you.” It says, “Give to him who asks you.” What you might very well give may be of more value than money. It might be good sound advice. Discernment might result in not giving money to a person or loaning them money. However, we have no right to insult the one asking. We are still to be kind to them.
When a Bible passage isn’t clear on a subject always go to a passage that is clear on the subject and interpret the unclear one in light of it. In regard to this saying an understanding is gained from reading Proverbs 11:15; 17:18; 22:26.
Basically these passages are an encouragement to respond to offensives like Jesus would respond. Don’t try to please the other person or yourself —- please Jesus.
The Bible says of Him “He came not to be served but to serve.” It also says, “It is proper for the servant to be like his master.” As our Master He is to be our model in all things.