I flipped open my notebook and read over scribbled notes dated April 24th.
38 “The law of Moses says, ‘If a man gouges out another’s eye, he must pay with his own eye. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the one who did it.’ 39 But I say: Don’t resist violence! If you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other too. 40 If you are ordered to court, and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat too. 41 If the military demand that you carry their gear for a mile, carry it two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow from you.”
I sipped my coffee and looked down the page at yellow highlighter and red pen.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”: lex talionis – the law of retaliation. This allowed for a method to end feuds according to Exodus 21:24. Essentially, you must bear the consequences you dish to others! This should have created a spirit afraid to injure others rather than to justify itself by retaliation.
I looked out the window at the cars swooshing by. I tried to picture this; Jesus, on the Mount, delivering this sermon. What did it mean to them then? What does it mean for me now? I looked at verse 39:
“But I say: Don’t resist violence! If you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other too.”
By law, the Jews would be permitted to slap an offender back, but here is Jesus, going deeper. Here is Jesus saying “Do not retaliate against a person with evil intentions toward you; if he wishes to hurt you, let your longsuffering convict him, not your fist.” And logically, it makes sense. If the person slapping has no regard for the law, and a Jew retaliated according to his legal rights, there is no resolution to the situation. There is no peace.
Then Jesus goes further.
“If anyone sues you to take your undergarment, let him have your outer garment as well.” (v.40)
Giving more when taken, not asked… who could do this? The law said that every man reserved a right to his outer garment as his only source of protection against the elements, yet Jesus says, ‘Give this as well’. Jesus says to give to the point of embarrassment and the edge of risk.
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” (v.41)
Romans could force a Jew to carry supplies for miles. I looked at my notes, highlighted in fading pen. A willing spirit is ready to serve; it expects to go a mile, so one more is not an inconvenience.
But in large letters I had written ‘WHY?’
Why suffer long? Why give until discomfort? Why go further than asked for those who don’t care?
…Go with him two.
The focus of Jesus’ message is not about the baggage carried or the time spent or the distance traveled: it is about the person we are traveling with. Jesus’ voice in this passage crashes through the ‘bare minimum’ rules of the law, breaking the pattern of ritual and right actions with emphasis on right relationships. He wants us to reach the people around us, to go with them mile after mile, maybe in discomfort, ingratitude, and pain.
“Don’t turn away…” (v. 42)
Do we face those who need us? Do we look for the way to give? They are in our path for a reason, as opportunities, not inconveniences.
Perhaps God’s greatest grace and my best accomplishments are in the interruptions, not the daily duties. And perhaps my spirit should be concentrated not on the impediment of the difficult person, the task assigned me, the work before me – but the person beside me. I can do my duty and finish the mile and leave; or I can go with them two because I want to know their need beyond the immediate.