4 August 2016

Matthew 5:38-42

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not 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." (vv. 38-42)

Psalm: Psalm 128


The passage is near the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), the summary of Jesus' teaching that sketches a 'new kind of righteousness' fit for those within God's kingdom community (Matthew 5:20). This passage and tomorrows each reflect the same structure: "You have heard it was said ... But I say to you ..." (vv. 38-39, 43-44). Jesus is here offering a different kind of ethic, one that undercuts popular interpretations of the law (though not the law itself, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5:17-19).

Jesus calls his followers away from violent retaliation, encouraging a willingness to give to those who might even be against you. Some scholars propose that Jesus is addressing the question of how to respond to Roman oppressors in the land, though even if this is the case the principle he enunciates is intended for broader application. Don't seek vengeance, Jesus advises, but treat those who oppress you with kindness.

The chapter ends with the call to "Be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect" (v. 48). Jesus' meaning here is widely debated, but 'perfection' here may mean something like 'whole-hearted commitment', a commitment expressed by living in the way Jesus has described throughout his teaching. As the context and other passages make clear, a key dimension of this teaching is love of others.

To Ponder

  • In what ways can we learn to avoid 'retaliation' and instead bless others? 
  • What do you think Jesus means by his call to "Be perfect"? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.