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Are You Getting Even or Coming Out Ahead?

Little four-year-old Frankie asked his grandmother: "Gramma, do you know what you and God have in common?" Gramma mentally adjusted her halo and made herself look as saintly as possible for the high compliment she was about to receive from her adoring grandson. Piously she said, "No, sweetheart? What?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Frankie said, "You're both really old." Ouch! Franking was a little too frank, wasn't he?! What do you do when someone insults or otherwise treats you unfairly and unjustly? Jesus speaks to just this issue in Matthew 5:38-42 with challenging and controversial words. Here they are: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." In these verses Jesus corrects a gross misuse of Old Testament teaching on the part of the scribes and Pharisees of His day. They had completely twisted the teaching of passages like Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, and Deuteronomy 19:15-21 which originally sought to limit punishment to the crime. They also put a brake on the human tendency to take back in revenge much more than eye for eye and tooth for tooth! No individual Israelite could decide to take another's eye or tooth. The Law limited such judgements to duly appointed judges/priests in Israel. The Jews had (wrongly) extended this prerogative to a personal level, and were using the teaching not for justice but for revenge and retaliation.

Think carefully about Jesus' words. On the one hand we must avoid an extreme literal interpretation of His words — what if some predator assaults your child or some lust-filled neighbor asks for your wife or some slovenly slouch who refuses to work asks for your paycheck this week so he can booze it up? On the other hand we must not dismiss ourselves from the high and holy road Christ calls us to walk in this teaching! It is the road He Himself walked — not the road of retaliation and revenge and taking of eye for eye and tooth for tooth and limb for limb — but the road of self-sacrifice, love, and forgiveness. At the cross Jesus did not strike back at those who slapped, beat, spit on, and then crucified Him. In the face of horrible evil and mistreatment He refused to pay back in hatred. Morgan Freeman once said, "In the harshest place on earth, love finds a way." I can't think of any place on earth more harsh than at Calvary's cross where they crucified the only sinless Man who ever lived. They taunted Him and dared Him to come down from the cross, but He refused to start yanking out eyes and teeth, even though He could have (Matthew 26:53), and would have been completely just in doing so. If we are to truly "follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21) and "walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:6b) we will have to let go of the world's vengeful, retaliatory mentality that says "give what you get" and "do unto others as they do unto you_" The cross of Christ forcefully reminds us we will come but ahead if we refuse to try and get even. Think about it.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ