There was a woman in Iran that had a sentence that was favorable to her expressed interests. Not something that happens every day for women in that country. There was a disturbed, bitter man that wanted her to share his romantic intentions. When she did not feel the same way in return he attached her with a cup of acid and threw it in her face so she was blinded. The police caught him and he was put on trial.
Going by their interpretation of Islam he was sentenced to be blinded the same way and she would be allowed to execute the sentence. There was some, only some, international protest against the sentence and cries for mercy for the victim to have. Some would say that this would be a natural consequence and others that revenge cannot be the highest standard.
Then the day came for sentence to be carried out. The man was strapped down on a bed so he could not move.The woman was led over with her hand guided with the cup of acid so it would be positioned right over his face. But then mercy won out. She took pity on him and he may even see the light of day out of a prison someday.
In its purest representation Christianity shines brightly the message of forgiveness. It does not deny the reality that in this world there are mechanisms in place for punishment that fits the crime but the challenge is that there can always be a better perspective than that. One important start of this line of thinking by Jesus was on a mountain where he spoke like a new Moses but with a new perspective on this.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also—Turning the other cheek does not sound appealing. To turn the other cheek in worldly wisdom is interpreted in the Scottish proverb, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” The desire to not be taken advantage of is natural but to fight for every last right may not be worth so many other blessings. I remember years ago I had a dispute with someone over finances who was a very good friend of mine. We parted ways acrimoniously but through the years I came to second guess what my motives were and remind myself how life is too short. I found my friend and reconciled with him. We are good friends again but I wish I could have those five years back. Case in point for preserving one thing but losing another thing far more important to a peaceful life.
and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; —-As for getting sued, Jesus ups the ante even more by asking us to go deeper in out insecurity. If it is kind of cold, you need a coat. If it is very cold you need a cloak. But in both cases these are materials which are replaceable. It would ruin your day by the lack of warmth if it is winter but more particularly from a loss of power. However by surrendering and adding more to it you really get the right power back because the most basic and necessary call we have is to give.
give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile— The pressure is increasing from Jesus even more where it hurts because his listeners considered themselves spiritual but also anti- Roman government. Thank God American Christians don’t have extreme anti-government tendencies. Oh, there are? In place of revolt that the Jews would think was their mandate in light of salvation history that they understood, Jesus urges extra service above and beyond what was on the books. Service in a tough context is not just a flowery love language but an expression of God’s power in brokenness. It is the kind that would influence the served, even a Roman soldier to praise God for such good deeds and maybe convert. “Preach the gospel at all times. If needed use words” (St. Francis of Assissi).
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —After breaking down with what is situational, Jesus is bringing this message of a call to bless others materially and unconditionally to a principled level. Do they have ears to hear it? Do we?
To perceive those transactions and when they come up it is easy to counter with loopholes. In a different passage of scripture Jesus is asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He answers this Pharisee who likely had prejudice against the Samaritans the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person we are indebted to in charity and high regard is anyone we have contact with. Even someone your culture calls a half-breed idol worshipper.
I must confess I have my loopholes against charity to the needy. Hardly a week goes by without someone coming up to me asking for money. Due to my education and experience I see the chances are too high that my money will go to a drug habit. However, that does not stop me from treating them to lunch, having a conversation and using some skill set from my prior work to help them get a job and other resources. Where is my loophole there? Me and my comfort zone. Me and my “rights”. That is what is stopping me and in some way or other it is what stops many of us.
So of the passages I have written on from the Sermon On The Mount, this is the toughest so far. Jesus’ method in this passage goes from hand to head in that he goes from situational to principle so one can spiritually perceive those instances of relational transaction whether big or small that we can participate in the kingdom of God where it matters most: to the least of His brethren (Matthew 25).
What would be dangerous is if Jesus did not stop there. If he went from hand to head to heart on this message then that would be very uncomfortable. In fact He did not stop there. His full message is to serve in perception our of the greatest gift of all: love. And that includes loving our enemies. Jesus is a very inconvenient Messiah indeed. And exactly what we need as we continue to read His words from a message on a mountain.