Sermon 2-20-11

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Church of the Beatitudes - Galilee, Israel

Church of the Beatitudes - Galilee, Israel

Last week we had begun discussing Jesus’ 6 antitheses statements. Again I may remind you an antitheses statement is when Jesus says, You may have heard it said,…. But I tell you… Jesus began to get into some of the real meaty part of his sermon and in doing so as I warned you all last week, Jesus was probably beginning to step on a few toes of the crowd around him. Today’s lesson from Jesus certainly is no different than last week. Jesus is still preaching with these antitheses statements, and still He is probably stepping on toes. This particular teaching that we are looking at today is one of those teachings that many have argued over about how to interpret for centuries. My hope is to give some context for what Jesus was saying in his present day and how as I have studied for the last few years begin to interpret this passage.

We may remember from last week, underneath the surface level of teaching, Jesus is teaching us about what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. Jesus is showing us the restored humanity, restored back to the way in which God intended for us to live in his creation. I will not be focusing so much on this today, but this is certainly important as we open up the meaning of this scripture.

You have heard it said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, But I say to you, Do no 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.

These are certainly some tough words to hear, even 2000 years later these are not easy to practice. Let’s break this down even further this morning. You have heard it said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…Where I wonder have they heard this said. This OT teaching can be found in three different parts of the first five books of the Bible also known as the Pentateuch. The first location found is from Exodus 21:24, it says….

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The second passage is found in Leviticus. 24:19-20

19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered.

And finally the third passage is found in the latest of the 5 books, in Deuteronomy 19:16-21

16 If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days, 18 and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, 19 then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Notice in each of these three cases the reason or the purpose for the punishment is different. In the very first one it was to anyone who had beat or injured a pregnant woman, in the second case it was to all who maim or injure another, and finally in Deuteronomy it was to set an example before all people what happens to those who falsely witness against another.  So it is important for us to remember that this saying had been a common phrase among the Jews and was used in multiple scenarios.

Now Jesus responds to this with first a very simple command, followed by three separate teachings that one must understand the context to understand what Jesus meant by this. First he responds very clearly, Do NOT resist an evildoer. Do not RESIST an evildoer. Do not resist an EVILDOER. Alright. Clear and concise. Jesus then goes on to say, 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. Each of these are said within a particular context.

This first saying of Jesus I have often heard it interpreted it two different ways. The first, rather simply means that if someone is to hit you, or in the common case of being slapped that you would in turn offer your other cheek to also be slapped.

The other way of understanding this is understanding the context of slapping someone across the cheek. I would like to read a section out a book called: A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation by Naim Ateek. “The Only way to strike someone on the right cheek is to apply the strike by the back of the right hand. In many societies, including the Middle East, such a strike expresses insult and humiliation. It is the way a master strikes a servant. It is the way one shames and dishonors another. [In the Middle East, both in the times of Jesus and now it is ran by shame and honor, a system of society that we in the states are probably unfamiliar with, but to them honor and shame is everything]. The person who turns his/her cheek is effectively saying, “Try Again. You first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”

This is the model in which Jesus is giving for nonviolent resistance. When insulted or humiliated, the person maintains their human dignity and at the same time baffling the striker. I am reminded of a verses 19 and 20 from Romans 12 that says,

“19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

I believe this teaching from Paul would be considered turning the other cheek.

The next response from Jesus says, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give him your cloak as well.” Now this is again a rather interesting saying with a lot of cultural context added onto this. First thing we must understand is that their cloak would be their inner garments, and if you were to take their inner garments, than yes, that would leave them in what we would call their birthday suit. Understood in this way , we can already begin to see the implications of what Jesus is saying here. To explain this though I am going to use a Disney movie that my household recently watched, or in my case slept through. Have any of you seen Robin Hood? In Robin Hood, King John would go town to town and begin to take every last penny of everyone in these towns. Well in ancient Middle East, their was another form of Govt that was much like King John called the Romans. The Romans occupied the Palestinians and would tax them heavily. According to Watler Wink a biblical interpretation professor at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, This particular saying was in response to their economic system of their day. This system could strip the poor of their property and even their clothes. Jesus, knowing that they live in a honor/shame culture was empowering the oppressed by telling them to non-violently reveal the unjust system by when they sue you for your coat, give them everything and walk out with nothing and thus shaming them for taking all that that you had.

This third response of Jesus is a little less unthinkable, but again the concept is the same. Their was a Roman Law that the soldiers could force noncitizens into carrying their gear for one mile and their gear could probably weigh 60-80 lbs. For the noncitizen this was a very humiliating task.  And so, Jesus was saying that instead of resisting to take the load, carry it that one mile, but then go on without being asked and carry it one more. So what does carrying it the second mile do? It would throw the soldier off balance because the oppressor often gets satisfaction out of the humiliation of another. By carrying it the second mile, you are essentially telling that soldier that you can’t steal my dignity of being a human, you can’t effect me, nor your tactics to humiliate me. And doing so in a nonviolent way. I believe I have spent enough time on this anti-theses, but it is important for us to understand what Jesus meant by these words spoken 2000 years ago in a very different culture than we are in today.

This last antitheses is probably the toughest for each and everyone of us to hear. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Since it has been sometime since the beginning of this message, let me re-iterate the importance that underneath these six antitheses statements is the understanding that God is restoring humanity back to the way in which God intended for us to live in his creation. With this said, I do believe this is to mean that we are to really love our enemies. As I have agonized over how I was going to share this with you all, I felt confident in placing the insert into today’s bulletin. I also recognize that this may very well be stepping on a few toes today as I had warned you all last week I just may. But as I think about the Kingdom of God, the final days when Christ fully reveals to us His wonderful Kingdom, I cannot picture a kingdom where there is still war among us. Christ has had final victory of sin and death, and war is made up of both. I want you to first understand that I am not saying don’t support our soldiers, but rather pray for them and for those opposing them. Both are made in the image of God and both have loving families at home awaiting their safe return. God created them both. Yes, we hate what is evil, but remember what is evil is not the human being that God created, but the Sin that remains: greed, murder, stealing, These are the things that are evil, but each person is a creation of God and let God be God and that means leave the judging up to him! Is this not what we continually pray in the Lord’s Prayer each week. These words that so easily slip off the tongue without any thought to what they mean, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” If we pray this sincerely and then go and believe that we are able to shoot our enemies, does this mean that Heaven will be still a warring chaotic existence?  I hope not. Of any of the veterans that we have in this room, or that we may know I believe they understand this point well enough, probably even better than most, that war produces brokenness, physically broken, spiritually broken, emotionally broken, mentally broken. God does not intend for us to live in brokenness, but rather God desires us to be whole. Is this demand of Jesus unreasonable? Yes, Loving enemies is not the natural thing to do and can become even more difficult when it becomes personal and not just out there over seas somewhere. So why do it? Because it reflects the character of God. Have we not waged war on God’s kingdom in our sin? And yet, God continues to uphold his covenant with us, and continues to show his loving Grace even when we spit on him and crucify Him with our sin. This love of ours is not easy to do, if it were would we not already be living in the fullness of the kingdom? I would like us to note that I am not saying that if we live this way no trouble will come our way, but rather just the opposite Jesus has not said to us, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” Nor did he say, “I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.” He said, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourself take up your cross, and follow me.”[1] Friends this is tough stuff to do, bearing a cross is no easy feat. But what we are to remember is that Jesus called his people to share in the task of bringing His Kingdom and to share in the cost of that work, both Christ’s suffering and Christ’s Eternal Glory.

Let me finish this day with these last words of Christ, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfection is the process of sanctification which is a progressive work of grace. It may also be called entire sanctification, in which the heart of the believer is cleansed from inbred sin by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Christian perfection, according to Wesley, is “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God” and “the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked.” It is “loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves”.[2] It is “a restoration not only to the favor, but likewise to the image of God,” our “being filled with the fullness of God.” We are thus commanded to strive to be the person who God desires us to be, not the person who we have become due to how the world has brought us up.  We are, with the work of the Spirit, to be the image bearer of God to all.


[1] N.T. Wright  After You Believe p. 115

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