13 February 2019Matthew 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.' (vs. 38-39)
Psalm: Psalm 73:1-14
This is a grotesque passage, destabilising the known patterns of behaviour in favour of the kingdom of God. In a series of cameos, Jesus offers prophetic and provocative actions which are revolutionary and downright offensive. The law states that retribution needs to be equitable to the crime committed: an eye for an eye. Justice in the Jesus way is not as simple.
Firstly, we have the face slap. Although it reads like something out of a slapstick comedy, there is something subversive about this scenario. To be slapped on the right cheek was to be slapped with the back of the hand – thus this is about reputation and shame. Culturally this is one of the most significant insults that could be laid upon someone. Jesus’ response is to offer the other cheek – to be further humiliated and shamed. It is likely that turning the other cheek would limit the retaliation rather than follow a natural instinct to escalate matters.
Secondly, to give one’s cloak as well as one’s coat is to give away the possibility of shelter. A cloak is also a blanket and a raincoat. To give this away is to give away one’s human rights.
Thirdly, walk the extra mile. Under Roman rule, the occupying force employed forced labour. Jesus is saying here that if that happens, the recruited individual is to offer to do even more than was requested. This situation echoes that which is expected of Simon of Cyrene at the Via Dolorosa: he was recruited to carry Jesus’ cross and had no recourse but to agree to his enlisting. Jesus is offering a paradox here – at once the power remains with the Roman forces (they get a double stint of work out of this!) and yet Jesus also recognises that this subversive action serves to recognise the humanity of the recruited.
In the kingdom of God, and in the Jesus way, retribution is met with non resistance; defence is met with generosity; self interest moves over for the care of the other; and socio-political power is undermined by self assurance.
- Which cameo offends you the most?
- Which do you find more attractive – the way of justice or the way of grace?
- Why did Simon take up Jesus’ cross?