August 06, 2019 | Articles by Rev. David Bodanza
People swallow some ideas whole, at face value, especially if they are frequently repeated in mainstream media or daily conversation. Everyone's doing it, so it must be right. Everyone thinks that way, so it must be true. You have heard it said, "Revenge is sweet" and "Don't get mad, get even." As human beings, we have the notion that we are to pay people back for what they have done to us. We need to settle the score. We have to get our revenge. After all, some may reason, doesn't the Bible say, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?"
To the contrary, Jesus said this in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42) If you want to know the Son of God, forget about the Hollywood movie and open up a Bible and see for yourself.
Jesus is telling us not to retaliate in our personal relationships. Revenge brings no peace or satisfaction. Two wrongs never make a right. Confucius understood it. He said, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." One for the other guy and one for you. The law of the jungle leaves no one standing. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." (Proverbs 14:12).
Vengeance is for God and government. We are not to take the law into our own hands. Jesus cited the principle of lex talionis (the law of retaliation) when he repeated the Old Testament law of "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." Lex talionis is a principle of proper procedure for the authorities. (Exodus 21:23-25) It simply means that the punishment must fit the crime. We know instinctively that lex talionis is just. Could you imagine going to court for a speeding ticket and getting 20 years in prison? Or could you imagine someone being convicted of first degree murder and receiving a $50 fine? It would be outrageous. The law is to be fair and proportionate. Lex talionis keeps people from being punished unfairly. The retaliation of the
authorities is to be measured carefully. The biblical principle is woven into the United States Constitution in the prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment" in the Eighth Amendment.
Vengeance is for God and government, not for individuals. "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19) In the final analysis, nobody gets away with anything. There will be a final judgment of God and everyone will be judged according to what they have done. Some wrongdoers are partially judged in this life, but everyone will be judged in the end. "The LORD works out everything to its proper end-- even the wicked for a day of disaster." (Proverbs 16:4)
The people were resorting to the principle of lex talionis in personal relationships. They were taking the law into their own hands. Jesus forbids this. We are not to take the law into our own hands. Lex talionis is not an excuse for private retaliation in personal relationships. The natural human desire for vengeance and retaliation was being conveniently justified from the biblical law which was designed to apply to public justice. To take it out of context and import it into the area of personal relationships is simply to serve one's own self-interest. The Proverbs say, "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you." (Proverbs 20:22)
Jesus is saying that self-sacrifice is better than selfish sin in personal relationships. Bear with insults. "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Jesus is not talking about a physical attack, but rather a demeaning insult. Jesus specifically mentions “the right cheek,” which tells us he is describing a backhanded slap (since most people are right-handed). According to rabbinic law, to hit someone with the back of the hand was twice as insulting as hitting him with the palm. A back hand meant contempt and disdain. It meant that you were being treated as a nobody, a nothing. The slap may be given because of Jesus, because you are one of those crazy Christians. How would you respond? Jesus does not want you to return insult for insult. If our faith is public, and it should be, we will be insulted for it. Jesus calls us to swallow our pride and give up our right of retaliation. We are to set aside our immature ways of getting even. In turning the other cheek, the other person and his or her spiritual well-being remain the issue. The personal insult is leveled because they want you to react the same way they would react. The insult is a test of your faith. Will you take a hit for Jesus? Are you any different than everyone else?
The evil of suffering is preferable over the evil of sin. Self-sacrifice is better than self-centeredness. It is better to suffer for Jesus than to sin for yourself. God is gracious to His enemies, and so should you be. "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45) People must see the grace of God worked out in human form. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. You may be the only witness that others will hear. You may be the only Bible they ever read. You may be the only Jesus they see. The eternity of others is at stake. They insulted Jesus on the cross by saying, "He saved others but he can't save himself!" (Matthew 27:42) It is true. To save others you can't save yourself. "Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?'" (Matthew 16:24-26)
Beloved, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, 'Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'" (1 Peter 3:9-12)