ON OUR OWN, WE CANNOT RESPOND TO OTHERS IN LOVE [MATTHEW 5:38-42]
The Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” may seem brutal to us (Exodus 21:23-24). Even at the time of Jesus, however, it was common practice that an injury could be made up for by the payment of a sum of money. But this law was intended to restrict the amount of vengeance that a person could exact when injured. This law prevented excessive punishment and limited retaliation to just one eye for one eye?
Jesus taught and personally witnessed to a new way which still fulfills the law (Matthew 5:17-18); He said that we should not respond to evil or insult with violence (Matthew 5:39-40). This is the way of love which Jesus Himself lived out during His passion. He was struck on the cheek but did not respond in kind (Matthew 26:67); He was subjected to a heinous and painful death, but instead of hating His persecutors, He asked forgiveness for them (Luke 23:34). Jesus didn’t just fulfill the old way by what He said, He also lived it out practically, showing us what it means truly to love God and to love one’s neighbor.
It is clear today that violence in our societies is a great problem. Revenge is often proportional to the harm done, and it is rare that we see instances of people turning the other cheek; reports of murders and assaults crowd the newspapers. What if people were in practice what Jesus taught and respond to violence as He did? Imagine if people did turn the other cheek – didn’t get angry when offended! What if patience and kindness became the norm for relationships? This would have a radical effect on the cycle of violence that is destroying individuals, families and societies.
Only in Jesus are we given the grace to live as He lived and to respond to others in love, rather than with violence. The Holy Spirit in us brings about the great power of Jesus to enable us to live this new way; without this, on our own, we cannot respond to others in love.
Jakarta, 16 June 2014
A Christian Pilgrim