It can never be repeated sufficiently that our Lord Jesus Christ is God and the Words He speaks are the Words of God. In verse 38 He referred backwards to the Old Testament as we saw yesterday. He said, “You have heard”, yet as we come to the next verse … He says, “But I tell you”.
As we have considered before, He is saying that His Word is equivalent to the Old Testament … which is the Word of God! He has the right to interpret the Word of God, explaining it as He does as no one else could ever do!
Yesterday I started the Daily Note using the concept of “revenge” on purpose to show that what Jesus is saying here, as He draws from the teachings of Moses (Word of God) was not revenge as one could easily think. The “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” procedure was for the prevention of harm and a motivation to love your neighbor. Let’s read the text again:
Mt 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Now we shall see how different “Gospel Response” is to “Law Response”. The Law required the “Restitution of Equality” … an eye for an eye … where the Gospel requires turning the other cheek. The Law was all about works whilst the Gospel is all about heart! We remember the King James translation spoke of the Law as a schoolmaster to lead us to Jesus … to salvation.
Gal 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The New International translation puts it like this:
Gal 3:23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
The point is that the Law reveals to us that were are sinners. Without the Law we would not know what sin is. So … as soon as the Law exposes us as sinners, it shows us that we need a Savior. This is what Paul means when He says the Law drives us to Jesus! It’s right here that the heart is changed as we confess sin, repent, believe and are born again that the heart is renewed. The heart of stone is changed into a heart of flesh … from hard to soft and pliable that God can work with. This is the difference between Law and Gospel. Doing things because you must (Law) and doing things because you want to (Gospel). This change of heart is foreign to the “world” because they cannot understand Gospel behavior because they are still living in the “dark” as to the things of God. Let’s now work through what Jesus was saying.
1) Striking the cheek. As is today, so then, striking someone on the cheek is to humiliate and hurt them. From a Biblical perspective we see this in:
Job 16:10 Men open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me
La 3:3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.
The picture Jesus is painting is the height of insult … because to hit the right cheek would mean a back hander! This was far worse than the teachings of the Rabbis. Why would Jesus say … turn to him the other also? Here we find the discipline of reflex! To prevent retaliation, offer the other cheek! This prevents continuing violence and diffuses the situation. A back hander says the assaulted is an inferior but as soon as the other cheek is offered the assaulter finds himself standing before an equal. Turning the other cheek is saying you are as human as I am. Rather than fighting, Jesus is saying “resolve interpersonal conflict on the basis of equality within the spirit of love for your neighbor.” Is it possible to practice this within our families … and at work?
2) Offering the cloak. Verse 40 is equally interesting. The backdrop here is the poorest of the poor. For them to get a loan meant the only collateral they had as a guarantee of repayment was their tunic. The tunic was a garment worn over the torso. Sometimes it had sleeves and other times it did not. It could reach the hips or the ankles. The cloak was an outer garment worn over the shoulders covering the back and often having a hood. When Jesus says “let him” … it means “offer him” … not give it to him. The Law stated
Ex 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”
Jesus turns this around saying if the lender requires it, take the shirt off your back … get naked … give up all. One needs to understand what Jesus is doing. In the face of what the Law stated, the society was a shame / honor society. Picture the creditor stopping the debtor in the street of a Palestinian town demanding some form of collateral for the debt. All the person has is his clothes. Jesus says … offer him all your clothing. If he agrees, get undressed in public. In this society such an act would be devastating … and the one demanding collateral would be shamed. What is happening? You turn the tables on the creditor. As one who has nothing, in him trying to shame you finds you turn the tables on him. You take the power because the creditor will shout out … “Stop. Keep your clothing on.” The action performed by the debtor brings the Law’s teaching to mind and shames him publically. Jesus is teaching that those without need to be given dignity and power. We will have to return to the rest of Jesus’ teaching in this section tomorrow, but for today let’s consider something extremely important. When Jesus said … … “You have heard”… “But I tell you” … He is helping us to dig deeper into His Word. Too often we take His teaching like today’s at face value without knowing the background and could easily do the opposite to what Jesus is saying. Resolving conflict in a Gospel manner and giving dignity and power to those without reflects signs of maturing Christianity.
O Lord, open my blind eyes to behold greater depth and understanding in Your Word so that through personal discipline in the teachings of Jesus I might learn to apply Your Truth to my daily living in Jesus, and glorify You. Amen.