This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.
The natural mode of our hearts is expressed well in the Latin phrase lex talionis, which means “the law of retaliation.” When someone crosses us or makes demands on us our initial reaction is to respond in the same way. Why not? This is the way we’ve heard that the world works. Right? Retaliation is sinfully seductive and bitterly sweet.
However, as Christians we operate by the laws of a different world, the Kingdom of God. This is why in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I tell you.” What does he tell us? Jesus demands that when someone insults us, we should not respond in a way that escalates violence. Instead, we should respond in love towards our attacker, in a way that prevents further attacks or stops the progression of violence.
Moreover, when someone takes your possessions, Jesus calls us to respond in the way of love, namely, to go the extra mile, to give freely to those in need. In many cases, those who pursue our possessions have an actual need they are trying to meet.
Doesn’t Jesus call us to give to those who are truly in need?
Now, we can split hairs on this passage and develop numerous scenarios where helping can hurt. Or we can think of many modifiers to these words in order to show how these things may or may not play out. But I think that misses the point of the passage.
In fact, the initial response of counting the costs to respond this way shows that retaliation is our natural desire.
However, Jesus calls us to think differently. Moreover, His Spirit enables us to respond differently.
In a unnatural way – better yet, a supernatural way – our need for retaliation and personal justice is not bound by the “pay out” on this earth.
If our self-esteem is found in our stance before God, we can lovingly stand in the face of sinful insults. If our treasure is found in the inheritance we have as children of God, we are not devastated when our earthly belongings are taken. This is the power of the gospel.